France will face Portugal in the Euro 2016 final on Sunday hoping to win a European Championship on home soil for the second time.
France have the chance to match the success of their predecessors achieved at Euro 1984, a French side led by Michel Platini, who scored a tournament record nine goals, propelling France to their first European Championship win.
This time around, France has been spearheaded by a confident Didier Deschamps whose ability to make tough calls, such as dropping Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba in France’s second game of the group stage, have allowed the French to approach every game with a strategy backed tactics to dismantle each individual opponent.
Speaking of the excellence of France, it’s hard not to highlight the trio of Dimitri Payet, Hugo Lloris and the aforementioned Griezmann. Their individual exploits have afforded France the opportunity to find their way during the tournament and gel as unit. When Griezmann and Pogba failed to have any impact in the first 185 minutes of the tournament, Payet stepped in and lifted France to their first win and orchestrated a brilliant offense through his skill and vision.
Griezmann has certainly picked up as the tournament continued, now the leading scorer of the championship, his ability to create magic from nothing has inspired a French team to believe in the wonder of miracles. It should be noted, this has all been made possible by the stellar play of Hugo Lloris in goal. His composure has helped to settle a side that was at times was chaotic and burdened.
On the other side, Portugal have almost stumbled into the finals after a dismal run; apart from their semi-final game against Wales, their offense has failed to ignite and outside of a few glimpses of brilliance from Ronaldo, their leading talisman has been mostly disappointing.
Portugal return to the final after a disappointing showing in Euro 2004 where Portugal were bested by the dark horse of all dark horses Greece who were able to pull of the unthinkable and grinded out a 1-0.
Let’s be clear, Portugal have every chance of upsetting the hosts and pulling out a spectacular result. The resiliency they’ve displayed to reach the final is commendable and it speaks to their team first approach throughout the tournament. Ronaldo may not be in top form, but the likes of young Renato Sanches, the newest teen sensation and recent Bayern Munich recruit, has chipped in with wonderful performances and could have been the story of the tournament if not for Ricardo Quaresma’s brillance and match winning moments.
Two opposing narratives, both teams entering a climactic third act, unfortunately, only one team will receive a storybook ending and it’s safe to assume these closing chapters will be enthralling. At the very least, it’ll be a deserved ending to a wonderful tournament.
It's clear that the running theme of Portugal's opponents has been conservative football centered on shutting down Ronaldo and attacking on the break.
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