It’s been a scintillating tournament, one with a lot of twists and uncertainties knowing no bounds. A total of 24 teams, 50 matches, four different stages, we now have our final two teams in Portugal and France. Both these teams have had two very different routes and very different kinds of performances coming into the last and the most important game of the tournament. Both these teams have been waiting for this moment for a long time now and no matter what the result is on Sunday night in Paris, the two stories are bound to be completely different and both of them will have a special tale to tell come the end of ninety minutes.
Portugal have endured a tough but successful journey towards qualifying for the tournament and reaching thus far in the tournament. After a shock loss to Albania in the opening game if the qualifying tournament coach Paulo Bento was sacked and was replaced with Fernando Santos at the helm. The change was an alarm for the Portuguese national side which had already been through a disappointing 2014 World Cup. Some remarkable changes were being made which included the return of former players like Ricardo Carvalho from Monaco and Tiago from Atletico Madrid. Bringing some much needed experience to the young squad and also ensuring quality is maintained within the squad. The changes had a positive impact on the squad as Portugal went on to win their remaining games and qualify for the tournament.
The tournament beginning wasn’t a good one either. Poor performances had resulted in all their three games ending in draws , which meant that Portugal only qualified as one of the third placed teams for the knockouts. Defensive assurance has been a key area where the Portuguese have done well and if anything it has been that defensive assurance that has kept them alive in the tournament thus far. Wins against Croatia, Poland and Wales has kept the momentum going which is crucial in such tournaments. Another important aspect of their run in the tournament has been the performance of two players, captain Cristiano Ronaldo and youngster Renato Sanches. Ronaldo one hand has been inspirational scoring thrice in the tournament and would now be looking to achieve the feat he missed out in 2004 against Greece back when the tournament was played on their home turf. A win in the finals would certainly put the Portuguese in pole position to win the Player of the year award in January next year. Sanches on the other hand has lit the tournament up with his brilliant displays for the national side. Bought into the side directly for this tournament, Sanches has stepped up whenever called upon, especially when the others have failed to live up to the expectations. Portugal people and their captain Cristiano Ronaldo have already experienced defeat at this stage of the tournament before and it sure didn’t go down well, that moment is still alive in the moment of those people and hey would be hoping for a change in their fortunes this time around. Given the squad and the talent at hand, this is not an impossible task for this side.
It’s been 16 years since David Trezeguet slotted home an extra-time winner in Rotterham against Italy to win France another European Championship. That was another proud moment in France’s football history but sadly that’s been pretty much the only proud moment since. A defeat in the 2006 World Cup final against Italy was the closest that they have got to any major trophy. Disappointment has since been a usual notion for the people of France with respect to their national side. On most parts it’s been mainly due to the things that have happened off the pitch that been the root cause of the French degradation in recent times. Be it the rift between the players and the coach Raymond Domench during the disastrous 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa or Sex tape scandal involving star players Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena at the end of last year. Controversies have always surrounded the French national team and has been a major factor in the degradation in the performance levels over the last decade.
Keeping the controversies aside, the current crop of players are a great bunch of players and can match any side in terms of quality on any given day. France had qualified for the tournament as the hosts of the tournament. France in contrast to Portugal had a good start to the tournament and won most of their games on their way to the final. Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann has been the tournament’s top scorer and has displayed great temperament and form throughout the tournament especially in crunch situations. France have scored the maximum no. of goals in the tournament but their solidity at the back is something that people have been somewhat surprised by, encountering a host of injuries to a lot of their big defensive players before the tournament has meant that France have had to dig deep in finding those replacements. These replacements have done relatively well on being called upon. The finals of the Euros this year is being played in the Stade-Dennis, a stadium which the French people remember very fondly as it was at this very stadium where France very famously beat Brazil in the final of the 1998 World Cup to win their first ever World Cup.
The wait has been long for the French public as well as the French football team and if any team in the recent past could do this, it has to be this lot. A win would be a great gift for a nation which has over the last year experienced great lows in all sections , just as it did for economically suffering Spain in 2012 this would be a great boost for ‘’Le Bleu’’ and the entire nation.
Pic Credit: Wiki