After a month of football tonight sees the culmination of the European Championships in France as Portugal and the hosts Les Bleus battle it out for the top honour.
We’ve seen it all this summer; we have seen the underdogs fly the flag, yet again. Wales and Iceland were prime examples with the former so close to reaching their first major international final.
At times we saw some scintillating football and at other times we saw some abject football, most notably England’s performance against Iceland.
But now we can forget all of that and concentrate on the big game which takes place at the Stade de France this evening. Portugal will be looking to claim their first international trophy; but as for the Les Blues they will want to win the Euro’s and make it a third time they have won a major competition they have hosted – it’s going to be a fascinating contest.
Portugal’s passage to the final underwhelming to say the least
On paper Portugal’s group was pretty easy, but it turned out to be a mammoth task for Fernando Santos’ men to progress.
They laboured against Iceland in their opening game, and then against Austria and Hungary they didn’t show the attacking flair that they possess; and it was only a 3-3 draw against Hungary which saw them progress.
Then when Cristiano Ronaldo and co tip-toed into the knockout rounds they had this unwanted statistic of failing to beat a team inside 90 minutes hanging over them; and in the last 16 against Croatia that still stood as they needed extra-time and a Ricardo Quaresma goal to send them through against the Poles.
Again it was a fairly drab affair against the Poles; the highlight for Portugal was the dazzling performance of Bayern Munich’s new boy Renato Sanches – but extra-time and penalties were needed, and as Portugal normally do in shootouts they held their nerve to set-up a tasty looking semi-final against the Welsh.
Failing to win a game in 90 minutes stood right up until the game against Wales; the first-half was tight and tense, but Ronaldo outshone his Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale to set the ball rolling for a berth in the final – a berth in the final that would see Ronaldo come up against the might of France.
France has the ability to blow teams away, but have been inconsistent at times
Hosting the tournament has been a big deal for the French; and it seems every time they do host a major tournament they do well; in 1984 they won the Euro’s on home turf, in 1998 they also won the World Cup at the Stade de France, and tonight they have the chance to make it a hat-trick of wins.
It’s been a solid tournament for the French; they struggled to find their rhythm in the groups game; they got over the line against Romania and Albania thanks to Dimitri Payet, and then with a rested squad they drew to Switzerland in their final group game.
But it was when they reached the knockout rounds they turned on the style – after falling behind against Ireland they produced a superb second-half display to find the required goals. And against Iceland; the team who knocked out England they put five past them to show the rest of the watching teams that Les Blues were clicking into the gear.
The semi-final was a titanic affair against the Germans – but they came through that winning 2-0 albeit thanks to a dubious penalty – but for France it was all about getting to the final in their home country. They have achieved that goal, now they have to finish the job.
Key battles on the pitch will decide tonight’s encounter
There will be an array of superb talent on display this evening, and it will be those key battle that decide the outcome.
One that could be tantalising is the battle of the young guns; if Sanches starts for Portugal this evening, it will be interesting how he fares against the might of Paul Pogba – the latter is the subject of some intense transfer speculation but it shouldn’t affect him as he looks to guide his country to victory.
Then Ronaldo v Patrice Evra is something the French will certainly have to keep an eye out for; both men know each other well, but Evra has looked suspect at times during this tournament, and if the Madrid world-beater can get at Evra that will spell trouble for France.
But whatever happens tonight it should be an absolute cracker, two teams with different styles will do battle for the Euro Championship in a grandeur setting such as the Stade de France.