So it is a final of Portugal v France at Euro 2016 – here is my preview and further down is my prediction for the finale.
A SECOND EURO FINAL WITH A HOPE FOR REDEMPTION
Portugal – Route to the final
Iceland – D1-1 overall an actual decent performance but could not breakdown a stubborn Iceland after they equalised. Maybe complacency the cause.
Austria – D0-0 – A strange match that Portugal eventually took control of, Cristiano Ronaldo had one of those nights to forget with a plethora of missed chances including a disallowed goal and a penalty miss. They should have won, but didn’t.
Hungary – D3-3 – A topsy-turvy humdinger of a match. The Portuguese showed backbone by coming from behind three times to force a draw which was enough to get them through to the knockout phase. Ronaldo with an assist and two goals – warming up nicely.
Croatia – W1-0 (AET) – Unfancied against, at the time, the most impressive team in the tournament, however a solid defensive performance saw a dour game settled by a late Portuguese breakaway.
Poland – D1-1 / W5-3 on pens – Poor defending meant the Portuguese were a goal down within 2 minutes. However they battled back, equalised and were the better team. Ultimately it went to penalties and a 100% record from the spot saw them through after Poland blinked first.
Wales – W2-0 – The first goal was always going to be crucial. A Ronaldo header broke the deadlock and a second followed within 3 minutes (Nani). They then used their European Championship semi final know how (this was their 4th in 5 tournaments) to comfortably see out the match.
Key player – It has to be Cristiano Ronaldo – this is slightly controversial as he has not had the greatest of tournaments but 3 goals and 3 assists is not a bad return for a player who has been below par through the competition, imagine if he actually was playing at his best. It is obvious he is respected hugely by his team mates and when they have had to dig deep in the match against Hungary (behind 3 times) and in the semi-final – one man stepped up his name – Cristiano Ronaldo, hence he is, in my opinion anyway, a huge factor in their progression to the final.
Unsung hero – Most people would say Renato Sanches, but for me that would be too easy as he has been anything but unsung. For me it has to be Jose Fonte. The Southampton defender has been a revelation since his promotion to the starting 11 in the first knockout round, replacing 38 year old Ricardo Carvalho. He has formed a solid partnership with defensive leader Pepe, who has also been superb under the radar. The reason I have chosen Fonte is that he was outstanding in the semi-final, when Pepe was injured, and led the Portuguese backline superbly and even with less than 20 caps he looked like the 80+ cap veteran alongside Bruno Alves in the semi-final. Given the chance he has been excellent and a key reason Portugal have only conceded one goal since the 3-3 against the Hungarians.
Manager – Fernando Santos – A man who must have been scratching his head at how his team were playing in the group phase. But fair play he made changes at the start of the knockout round introducing Jose Fonte for Ricardo Carvalho, pairing Sporting Lisbon teammates William Carvalho and Adrien Silva to give more fluidity in midfield as well as dropping the experienced Joao Moutinho and introducing Renato Sanches. These changes have been vindicated, and performances have improved. Santos has made strong decisions and backed his judgement and now they are just one match away from the coveted prize.
So at last Portugal have won a match within regulation time at Euro 2016 – and what a time to do it in the semi-final of all matches. To be honest there is only one other match it would be better to do it in and they are now in that game at the Stade de France on Sunday. It was a cagey tense affair against first time semi-finalists Wales last Wednesday in Lyon. All square at half time an even game, but the Iberian team came out of the blocks in the second half scored two quick-fire goals from Ronaldo and Nani and then expertly shut the game down. The margin of victory could have been more if not for some poor finishing and solid goalkeeping from the Welsh keeper but they won’t care they are heading to the final on July 10th. Much has been made of the way they have got there with a lot of draws, but credit has to be given to their fighting spirit and know how especially in the knockout phase with their late winner against Croatia and then penalty shootout victory versus Poland. They will be a tough nut to crack in their second European Championship final and will be looking to be lifting the trophy this time.
FRANCE LOVING THEIR HOME COMFORTS
France – Route to the final
Romania W2-1 – A nervy opening performance from the hosts, with only a late wonder strike by Dimitri Payet saving the hosts blushes, a draw would have been a fair result.
Albania – W2-0 – A strange team selection by the manager, both Griezmann and Pogba ‘rested’ lended itself to an insipid first half performance against a stubborn Albanian side. Half time changes brought an improved second half and they eventually broke the hearts of their opposition with a 90th minute goal from Griezmann, Payet added a second in stoppage time.
Switzerland – D0-0 – A drab game especially once Switzerland were made aware they could even afford to lose the match and still qualify for the knockout phase. Nothing much to write home about. With no early goal from either side they both were more than happy to settle for a draw.
Republic of Ireland – W2-1 – A goal down at half-time (and it could have been worse) – Deschamps changed the system and once the equaliser came they totally dominated their opposition (who ended up with 10 men) and should have scored more than the 2 goals they did. Job done onto the quarter finals.
Iceland – W5-2 – All tournament France had not scored a first half goal. This wrong was spectacularly righted with 4 first half goals against a spirited, but limited Iceland team. The second half was routine fair, more a training ground exercise as legs were saved for the semi-final.
Germany – W2-0 – Memories of semi-final defeats to the Germans in the World Cups of 1982 and 1986 were vanquished as France did a Germany on Germany. They soaked up the pressure in both halves and took their chances when they came to earn a victory that takes them to the final at the Stade de France.
Key Player – 6 goals 2 assists and basically being the star man of this French team, Antoine Griezmann has been the standout player for France, probably of the whole tournament, there is still a match to go for someone to take that honour mind. He was ‘rested’ by manager, Didier Deschamps for their second match against Albania, though the player was not best pleased, he came on in that game and scored the crucial opener. Then a double against Republic of Ireland followed, which turned a deficit into a win (he also was fouled which led to the opposition having a man sent off). He scored in the Iceland thrashing and then most importantly ran the show for France against the Germans in the semi-final, always being available as an outlet and crucially scoring the two decisive goals. The golden boot is all but his, he will also want to be lifting the trophy too come Sunday. He showed glimpses of these types of performance at the 2014 World Cup. A star is well and truly born now.
Unsung hero – This goes to captain and goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris. The one huge weakness in this French side is at the back and whilst it was better in the semi-final, previously it had been problem. They looked shaky every time the ball was crossed into the box and if not for Lloris they might not even have made it this far. Whilst not being spectacular he has gone about his job diligently and has made decent saves as and when needed to bail out some poor defending. He has done an excellent job as captain too quietly but forcibly willing his team on especially when they were chasing a late goal. An understated but crucial part of the jigsaw in their run to the final.
Manager – Didier Deschamps is not everybody’s cup of tea as a manager. He can be very conservative and lack adaptability in his style. Well he is now one match away from footballing immortality in France. To be fair when he has needed to, positive changes have been made that have benefitted the team. He has so much attacking talent and the fact his team have made the final must mean he has got things right. He has already lifted the World Cup in France as a player, the plan is now to lead his country to the European Championships on home soil. Hero status awaits.
So the hosts have made it, but there is still work to be done. The performance against Germany was outstanding in the fact that this was by far their best defensive performance of the tournament and boy was it the perfect time to produce it. The Germans probed and probed and probed again but could not get past the French wall and if they managed to pierce it a little then goalkeeper and captain, Hugo Lloris was there to shut them out. The home fans have been fantastic throughout the competition, backing their team even in moments of angst and there have been a few of them. Late goals in the group stage helped them secure top spot then it was fighting spirit allied with an extra bit of quality to come from behind againt the Republic of Ireland. Iceland were blitzed and then the Germans were beaten via a superior gameplan mastermined by manager Didier Deschamps. The country now expects on Sunday, they have not been let down yet, nobody wants to fall at the final hurdle, time will tell.
Ok prediction time – If you have been keeping up with my blog you will be aware that I tipped France as winners:-
I also picked Cristiano Ronaldo as top goalscorer. So for me to get both right, I need a Ronaldo hat-trick (Griezmann to have a non-game) and the France to outscore the Portuguese captain. Even I don’t think that’s going to happen.
The French are the favourites and rightly so, they are the hosts, they have performed better in this tournament, will have a huge majority backing them in the Stade de France oh and the small matter of them not losing a home tournament match since 1960 (16 wins and 2 draws). The thing is Portugal are already used his. They are seen as the pantomime villains of this competition having got here with only one win in the regulation 90 minutes. All the pressure will be on France, they have to win or its a failure, with the Portuguese being seen as the sacrificial lamb. I see the Iberians trying to stifle the French which will lend itself to a pretty attritional game (which will benefit Portugal as they will have had an extra days rest), unless there is an early goal, something I’m not expecting . As mentioned I have France to win the Euro 2016, so I cannot go against them. It will be tight, I actually fancy extra time. and I am going for Portugal 0 France 0 in 90 minutes, with the French just and I mean JUST besting the Portuguese in extra time, like they did in 1984 and 2000. ALLEZ LES BLEUS will be being shouted loud and proud around the Stade de France when they lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy late on Sunday night.
You can tweet me:- Tweet to @biggishmouth
Go to my facebook page at:- www.facebook.com/thebiggishmouth
or click on this link to pick up:- ALL my latest and historical blogs
You can subscribe for free at www.biggishmouthblog.com – with an email address and then every time I post a blog you will get it instantaneously.