Having beat world champions Germany 2-0 in the Euro 2016 semifinals, host nation France is now set to face Portugal in Sunday’s final.
The tournament showpiece at the Stade de France will pit two of the standout players in these Euros against one another in Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann.
With three goals in Euro 2016, Portugal’s Ronaldo is now tied on nine goals with France legend Michel Platini as the all-time leading scorer in the European championships. However, while Platini scored all nine of his goals in a single tournament, Ronaldo’s are spread out across four competitions, making him the only player to have scored in four different European championships.
Griezmann on the other hand, is making his first appearance in the finals of the European championship but has taken this tournament by storm. The Atletico Madrid forward has scored six goals in six appearances for France and is the front runner for the tournament’s Golden Boot.
Both players were instrumental in lifting their teams to the final. Ronaldo floated above the Wales defense to head in the opening goal for Portugal before assisting Nani on the second goal in a 2-0 win just a few minutes later.
Griezmann opened the scoring for France from the penalty spot after Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger was adjudged to have handled the ball. He added a second in the second half after teammate Paul Pogba made use of some fancy footwork to set him up.
Sunday’s final will also mark the second time the two men have faced each other in a final this season. Griezmann was on the losing end of May’s Champions League final between Atletico and city rivals Real Madrid. But this time around, things are reversed with France the heavy favorites to beat Portugal and win the European championship on home soil, as they did in 1984.
France are not favorites without good reason. Didier Deschamps’ side has won all but one of its matches – a 0-0 draw with Switzerland – and along the way have dispensed with world champions Germany and a dogged Iceland team that knocked England out in the previous round.
Portugal have been far less spectacular in their progression to the final. They made it through the group stage by drawing all three of their matches. Wednesday’s semifinal victory over Wales marked the first time in the tournament coach Fernando Santos’ team had won a match inside of regulation time.
But one way or another, Portugal have managed to get the job done. While they’ve relied on moments of individual brilliance from Ronaldo, Nani was also produced three goals and tournament debutante Renato Sanches has made an impressive showing.
Having lost the Euro 2004 final to Greece on home soil, Portugal are aware that the home field advantage doesn’t ensure victory and that the most talented team doesn’t always prevail. Although, historically France has had the upper hand when the two sides have clashed, with Les Bleus having won the last 10 meetings going back to 1975.
Portugal are still seeking their first major tournament win while France will be looking to add to a trophy cabinet that already contains two European titles and a World Cup.
With a talented team littered with game-changers like Griezmann, Pogba, Dimitri Payet, and Blaise Matuidi, it’s hard to make a case against France. But as we saw against Wales, this Portugal side is capable of frustrating more in-form teams. And even at the age of 31, Ronaldo has shown that he is still able to provide that X-factor that enables him to change big games entirely on his own.
If Portugal are to have any hope of spoiling the party for the host nation on Sunday, they will certainly require another big performance from the Real Madrid star man.