French striker Antoine Griezmann and Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will face as off as their respective countries meet in the Euro 2016 Final. This meeting on Sunday marks the second time these two stars will face off against each other in a major tournament final this year. In May, Ronaldo bested Griezmann when Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid to win the Champions League. However, this time around could be different. Griezmann and his French counterparts, even without considering their home field advantage, have emerged as the huge favorites entering the Final.
There’s a lot to be said about France. They’ve undoubtably been the most impressive team this tournament. Their goal differential of +9 leads the tournament (with the next highest being +4) and they’re first in goals scored per game as well (2.17). The defense and goal keeping play from Hugo Lloris has been great as well, but it is France’s strong play in the midfield that has separated them from their competition.
Dimitri Payet has been brilliant in orchestrating France’s high powered offense, while Blaise Matuidi has shined on defense by preventing counter attacks. Then there is the Atletico Madrid star, Antoine Greizmann, who has been one of the best players in the tournament. Normally playing up top for Atleti, Greizmann has adopted more of a center attacking mid role for France, as he plays right behind Olivier Giroud. Griezmann’s pace, skill with the ball, and awareness have allowed him to put his mark on almost every match, as he leads all scorers in the tournament with six goals. The scariest thing about this midfield is that we have yet to see Paul Pogba play up to his standards. The potential £100 million Manchester United target will look to display his exceptional shot and passing ability on Sunday at the Stade de France.
After barely sneaking out of the group stage and clawing their way through the knockout stage, Portugal finds itself just one win away from European glory. Pundits have criticized the Portuguese for their lackluster performance thus far and cite their easy road to the finals as the reason for their success. Although not completely sold on their play myself, I always say you don’t find yourself in the finals by accident, which means this Portugal team has a lot of promise. Anchored down by Pepe, their defense has stifled their opponents: The Real Madrid defender has flaunted his physical and cutthroat play style we have all come to know and hate. Moreover, coming as a bit of a surprise, Renato Sanches has emerged as their top midfielder for the tournament. The 18-year old, who will be joining Bayern Munich next season, has been instrumental in Portugal’s success.
Playing up top for Portugal is one of the world’s finest, Cristiano Ronaldo. Providing three goals and three assists for his country, Ronaldo has reached top form at the right time. He can beat you with his head, off the dribble, or with his shot. Even when Ronaldo is without the ball, he demands the opposing defense’s attention wherever he goes. Although Portugal is a fairly young squad overall, Ronaldo will be 33 by the next World Cup. He’s already accomplished so much on a personal level and for his club teams, but this might be his last opportunity to capture a major tournament for his country.
This game will ultimately come down to a battle of Portugal’s defense and France’s midfield. Les Bleus will surely dominant possession and shots on target, but if Portugal’s defense rises to the occasion, their offense will look to draw blood on counter attacks. If this were to happen, Ronaldo, Nani, and Sanches could wreak havoc on the French defense. As for France, their focus should be on getting an early goal. This would force Portugal to play from behind, something they aren’t very adept to considering they haven’t been down for most of the tournament.
Despite what people are saying, I think this matchup will be much closer than people anticipate. Portugal is hardly a team that will just let France have their way with them. If I had to give a prediction, though, I would say 2-1 in favor of the host nation. I think France’s strength and skill, as well as having the fans on their side, will push them past Portugal for their first competitive tournament championship since they won the World Cup in 1998.