Euro 2016: Jour de glorie beckons for France and Portugal
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There’s a verse in the French national anthem—La Marseillaise—which goes “Le jour de glorie est arrive”, or the day of glory has arrived. In a tournament that has stretched over a month, the French national team or the Les Bleus as they’re commonly known have seen many such days, most recently on Thursday night at the famed Stade Velodrome in Marseille in the semi-finals of the Euro 2016, against Germany.
Two Antoine Griezmann goals in either half ended a 58-year-old jinx, where France had failed to defeat Germany in competitive matches. In a nutshell, Germany were absolutely dominant from start to finish and should have done better with the chances they created, even late in the game.
However, there were two key moments in the match, or defensive clangers if you’d like, which invariably led to the goals that sent France through. First, a hand-ball from German captain Bastian Schweinsteiger right at the stroke of the first-half, resulting in a penalty which Griezmann converted, and in the 72nd minute, a rare Manuel Neuer error, where he came for a cross from Paul Pogba he should have left, with Griezmann again prodding home from the rebound.
Just like the opponents who await them in Sunday’s final, Portugal, France have also tended to peak at the right time towards the business end of the tournament, after a largely unconvincing start in the group stages. It was in the two knock-out matches prior to Thursday where France gathered steam, and showed signs of a side determined to make it to Stade de France on Sunday.
Defensively, France have been largely solid, at least no signs of hara-kiri just yet. In midfield, the Pogba and Blaise Matuidi have stood out on a consistent basis, along with Moussa Sissoko, who offers the box-to-box option or can be deployed wider. But it is in attack that France have gotten sharper as the tournament has progressed, especially with Griezmann and his link-up play with the much-maligned Olivier Giroud taking shape. With Dimitri Payet certain to start on Sunday, as he’s done for most of the tournament, they have one of the best free-kick takers in the tournament, a clear Ronaldo rival in that sense.
France would rightly go into the final as favourites, not just because they’ve become more convincing as the tournament has progressed, but also because of the quintessential twelfth man—a large contingent of home fans. The last time France played a final of a major tournament at home, they defeated Brazil 3-0 in the final of the 1998 World Cup. France have won their last ten encounters against Portugal (both competitive and friendly), with the run stretching back to 1978.
For Portugal, a team not many gave a chance before the tournament, Sunday would present a significant opportunity to correct their record, to create history. All eyes (and attention) will be on Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo and predictably so, especially after his great rival Lionel Messi missed out on the Copa America recently, losing out to Chile in the final. Portugal’s road to the Euro 2016 final has been rather interesting. They finished the group stage as one of the best third-placed sides (with no win to show), to a scrappy 1-0 injury-time win over Croatia in the round of 16s, to surviving a penalty shoot-out against Poland in the quarter-finals, before they eventually turned up.
Against Wales in the semi-finals, Portugal showed what they could do as a side, which has a healthy mix of youth (Renato Sanches) and experience (Ronaldo, Nani and the seemingly ageless Ricardo Carvalho). With Ronaldo desperate to win a major tournament with his national team, as he’s done on several occasions with his clubs, and with his ability to make it happen, Sunday promises to be fun night for the millions who’d be watching it on telly.
Portugal also have an abysmal track record against France to correct, with their last win coming in April 1975 in an international friendly.