The global betting market is going crazy ahead of the France-Portugal Euro Cup final on Sunday. If one goes by history, a French victory looks like the most probable outcome. But past performances and historical results become meaningless in the face of field performance on the day of the match. Yet, you cannot stop people from booking their odds at the internet betting sites. The most popular ones are 5/11 for France and 37/19 for Portugal. Beyond the gambling scenes, France and Portugal are busy with their preparations. Except the fitness of Pepe, Portugal’s coach Fernando Santos has no other health worry and Didier Deschamps’ men are perfectly match-fit. After Antoine Griezmann’s super show on Thursday night, the media is trying to bill the match as the Ronaldo-Griezmann battle. That may not be the right comparison since both sides have other players capable of stealing the show on the strength of their own performances. One cannot, however, deny that Ronaldo and Griezmann will be crucial to Portugal and France. On their home turf, France were the winners in 1984 and also won in 2000, when Belgium and Netherlands were the joint hosts of the Euro Cup. Another major victory for France at home came in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. For Portugal, their best Euro Cup result was the runner-up finish behind Greece, when the 2004 Euro Cup was held at Portugal.
France and Portugal have entered the Euro Cup final by scoring an identical 2-0 victories over their opponents on Thursday and Friday. While France defeated heavy favorites Germany, Portugal set aside the challenge by Wales. There is an uncanny similarity between France and Portugal about their inherent football talent. Both nations are the biggest exporters of players in the European Club football. The talent nurturing in both countries takes place at the grass-root levels and nearly every player in their national teams is playing abroad round the year. Ronaldo and Griezmann both play in the same city. One is the king at Real Madrid and other a key figure at Atletico Madrid. It is a coincidence that both wear the same number 7 shirts. For their Clubs, Griezmann and Ronaldo are heroes around whom the team revolves. Griezmann has made 75 appearances for Atletico Madrid since 2014 and scored 44 goals.
Besides Griezmann, France also had the Arsenal forward Giroud and the two have played in this Euro Cup in perfectly balanced harmony. On this count, Pepe and Nani have done the same alongside Ronaldo. For Sunday’s final, if France can get the balance right in the mid-field, Portugal may find the going tough. Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi are both crafty players and they have the power but they haven’t brought up those qualities to the fore as yet. It is now time that Didier Deschamps corrected this aspect. France will breathe easy because another key player N’Golo Kante is available. He didn’t play against Germany but his comeback will boost the midfield. Portugal will also derive similar advantage by the return of William Carvalho, who couldn’t play against Wales.
Despite these comparisons and for all Portugal’s plus points, France remain an emotional choice to win Sunday’s final. The hosts look stronger in nearly every area. The combined talent of the French squad will give them an attacking thrust. They did so against Germany even with 35% ball possession. That should change against Portugal. Though Ronaldo remains a threat, France have already acquired a winning momentum and they are clearly driven by a desire to win their third major championships at home.
Portugal have never won a major tournament in their football history. Besides finishing Euro Cup runners-up at home turf in 2004, they have reached the semifinals in 1984, 2000 and 2012. In the 2004 final against Greece, Portugal lost by a solitary goal. Ronaldo was just 19-year old fresh face playing in that final. It has been 12 years since. The passage of time has transformed Cristiano Ronaldo into football’s most glittering star. His position, shirt no. and playing style have all changed. Those days, he was no.17 and now his new number has given him another identity CR7.
Under Fernando Santos, Portugal have shown their fighting qualities and two of the most notable features of Portugal’s game have been the team spirit and tactical intelligence. Cristiano Ronaldo has shown great mentor’s skill and his influence has rubbed on the players. Pepe, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and Jose Fonte have all been gritty on the field and there is no doubt they will give their best on the last day. The media bills them as the underdogs because they have never beaten France in their last 10 meetings. But Portugal has the ability to change that tag.