Les Bleus will claim the prize on home soil
Portugal v France

Les Bleus will claim the prize on home soil

09/07/2016

France are just one win away from winning Euro 2016 on home soil, but a dogged Portugal side stands in their way in Paris.

France

After a tournament that has seen underdogs Wales and Iceland blossom in heart-warming style, it is the hosts and pre-tournament favourites France who find themselves just one victory away from being crowned as champions of Europe. Les Bleus hope to emulate the French teams of 1984 and 1996, who tasted glory on home soil.

Like many trophy-winning teams, Didier Deschamps' side has grown into the tournament, learning valuable lessons along the way. Last-gasp goals saw off determined opponents in Romania and Albania, and a drab draw with Switzerland secured Group A's top spot.

It was the round-of-16 clash with the Republic of Ireland that kick-started France's campaign. Trailing 1-0 at half-time against a modest but determined Irish side, with the boos of frustrated fans fresh in the memory, a frank exchange of views began in the bowels of the Stade des Lumieres. Deschamps acted swiftly and decisively, changing to a 4-2-3-1 formation, and France never looked back.

The change allowed Antoine Griezmann to play a more central role, and a man who had been emblazoned on billboards before the tournament began finally allowed the limelight to wash over him. The Atletico Madrid forward scored twice in four minutes to lead a stirring comeback.

The Icelandic dream was ruthlessly torn to shreds in the last eight, as France won 5-2, exploiting the weaknesses that England palpably failed to expose.

In the semi-final against Germany, Les Bleus' 2-0 win showed their ability to dig in and stay calm under pressure. The world champions dominated the first half and threatened to bewilder France with crisp passing and intricate movement, like a street hustler confident of winning a game of "Find The Lady". The hosts refused to take their eyes off the prize though, and forced two costly German mistakes.

Deschamps has been fulsome in his praise of his charges, but he deserves huge credit too. Having captained France to World Cup and European Championship success, he has shown the same iron will as manager, and hasn't been afraid to make big calls. Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema was axed pre-tournament after off-the-field controversy, and the faith placed in Arsenal's Olivier Giroud has paid off. Griezmann and Pogba both had expectation weighing heavily upon them - leaving both out of the team against Albania proved beneficial.

Dimitri Payet was once discarded by Deschamps for being too individualistic, but the West Ham wizard's rehabilitation has been spectacular. Samuel Umtiti and Moussa Sissoko proved to be the correct choices against Iceland when suspension ruled out Adil Rami and N'Golo Kante, and both kept their places against Germany.

Now only Portugal stand in France's way, and the Opta stats are in the hosts' favour. France have won all three of their meetings with Portugal at major tournaments, and they have won their last 10 games against the Iberians. They are the tournament's top scorers with 13 goals, their best tally since they won the Euros in 2000.

France have no fresh injury or suspension concerns, and could well field the same side that started the semi-final.


Portugal

Theo Zagorakis held the European Championship trophy aloft, and the ink dried on one of the most painful chapters in Portugal's football history. The final of Euro 2004 in Lisbon was supposed to be their moment, a chance for a talented generation of Portuguese players to become masters of the continent with a victory on home turf. A regimented Greece won 1-0, and the dreams of the Selecao turned to dust.

Now Portugal find themselves in Greece's shoes. They are the underdogs, the uninvited party guests, the team that weren't supposed to get this far. They finished third in their group behind Hungary and Iceland, and until they ruthlessly ended Wales's adventure in the semi-finals, they hadn't won a game in 90 minutes.

Only two players remain from the team that suffered such crushing disappointment in 2004 - veteran defender Ricardo Carvalho, and the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo. For 38-year-old Carvalho, this is surely a last stab at international glory. For Ronaldo, this represents a chance to rubber-stamp his status as one of the sport's all-time greats. His nemesis Lionel Messi has now failed to lead Argentina to victory in three major finals - this is Ronaldo's chance to succeed where his fellow footballing deity has failed.

Ronaldo plays the lead role, but the supporting cast is strong. Pepe and Carvalho form a streetwise defensive pairing, young midfielders Renato Sanches and William Carvalho have shown why they are so highly rated, and the oft-derided Nani has made some key contributions while supporting Ronaldo in attack.

Coach Fernando Santos prides himself on producing competitive teams that are tough to beat (they won 1-0 four times in qualifying), and unless France score an early goal (they haven't yet scored before the 42nd minute), I think he'll keep the handbrake on in the opening exchanges.

In terms of team news, Pepe is likely to replace Bruno Alves after recovering from injury, while William Carvalho is available after a ban and should come in for Danilo.


Match Odds

Although I think Portugal have the technical ability and the experience to make life tough for France in this final, I suspect the hosts will eventually find a way through. Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho will be tested aerially by Giroud, and they will also have to deal with the trickery of Payet and the in-form Griezmann.

In midfield, Pogba and Blaise Matuidi will give William Carvalho the biggest test he's had so far. The biggest concern for France is whether they can keep Ronaldo quiet for 90 minutes, but at least skipper Hugo Lloris is in superb form, having made several excellent saves against Germany.

France are trading at 2.08 to win in 90 minutes, and I believe that's a price worth taking. France are in their home stadium, they beat Portugal in 2014 and 2015, and they will have been emboldened by that win over Germany.

Portugal took Croatia and Poland to extra time, so if you think France might take longer to get the job done, you could use the Method of Victory market to back them to win in extra time 11.50 or on penalties 11.50.


Over/Under 2.5 Goals

If you look at the last few finals in World Cups and European Championships, you can see why Over 2.5 Goals is trading at 2.74.

The Euro 2012 final, where Spain crushed Italy 4-0, is the only European Championship final since 1980 that has featured three goals or more in 90 minutes. The last World Cup final that landed an Over 2.5 Goals bet was in 1998, when France beat Brazil 3-0.

If you want encouragement to go for overs, it's worth bearing in mind that France failed to keep clean sheets against Romania, Iceland and the Republic of Ireland, and only a combination of Lloris and the woodwork ensured a shut-out against Germany.


To Score

Griezmann is the tournament's top scorer with six goals, and he is 3.05 to net in the final. Given the form he's in, and the lack of pace in Portugal's rearguard, that seems a good price to me.

Ronaldo needs one more goal to become the outright leading scorer in European finals, and he is trading at 3.40 to find the net in 90 minutes.


Recommended Bets

Back France to win at 2.08
Back Antoine Griezmann to score at 3.05

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