- Twelfth Man Times
A month long football carnival showcasing mostly a tedious and hauling style of play, rather than a spectacle is finally set to end now with the finals on Sunday being played between Portugal and France in Saint-Denis. A tournament which showed us that the minnows of Europe like Iceland and Wales can stand up to be counted as well and that football isn’t just about talent, it’s way beyond that. They showed us how passion has a funny way of trumping the big names, when it actually matters the most.
It kicked off with the Stadium in Saint-Denis, where the hosts, Les Blues went against the Romanians in a group along with Switzerland and Albania where they were favorites to top the group A. With the 45,000 cheering French, it looked like a cakewalk for them to stump over Romania, but in a game of squandering chances a resurrected Dimitri Payet’s stunner in the 89th minute, earned the Les Blues an arduous 2-1 win. Again with same snoozfest mirrored performance against Albania, taking it all the way to 90th and 96th minute strikes from Griezmann and Payet, Les Blues sealed the game. Payet seemed to be the only glimmer up front and with the parlous hopes on the likes of Griezmann and Pogba. Against Switzerland in an 0-0 draw, things didn’t seem to change for Deschamps’ men. Although by finishing first in the group they comfortably made it to the Round of 16.
Where as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal placed in group F with Iceland, Hugary and Austria, everything looked favourably good for the rather mighty Seleções de Portugal against a team of part time footballers from Iceland, the match turned out to be well competed when a 31st minute Luis Nani goal was drawn to level by Bjarnason’s vollyed shot past Patricio. In a game rather more challenging against Austria, Portugal again failed miserably and hardly troubled Austrian keeper Robert Almer and suddenly their qualification to Round of 16 looked in peril. Then came the must win game against the Hungary, if they had lose against them, they’re out of the cup. A 19th minute goal from Gera made it a more uphill task for Cristiano and co. but in came the equalizer from Luis Nani right before the half time and gave Portugal something to play for in second half but a 47th minute strike from Bese followed by another equalizer from Ronaldo for Portugal made it end to end, then again a 55th minute goal Dzsudzsak opened up the game again and Portugal seemed to conceding another if the game had gone the same way but cometh the hour, cometh the champion, Cristiano Ronaldo again rises up to put the ball back in the Austrian goal to keep the Portuguese hopes alive. And with the ending 3-3, Portugal finishing 3rd in the group, they somehow managed to make it to the round of 16.
In the Round of 16, with France facing Ireland and Portugal facing Croatia who topped the group D. It looked like facile job for Les Blues and a rather adverse job for Portugal. Whole of France was left in awe by 2nd minute Roby Brady goal from the penalty spot and with Ireland piling up attack after attacks, an upset on the cards looked highly likely, but Griezmann stepped up for the Les Blues when they needed him the most and levelled the game in 57th minute and put France right back in the game and in the tournament, and then again a 61st minute strike from Griezmann made France look like the team everyone was hoping to see and they ended the match comfortably. As Portugal continued their dreary form against Croatia and they went beyond 90mins into extra time, it looked like penalties will decide the fate of both teams but in 117th minute as Renato sprays out wide for Nani, who picks out Ronaldo with a teasing delivery. The forward’s shot is stopped but Quaresma on hand knocks in the rebound and seals the game for Portugal who looked to made it so far on sheer luck.
In the quarters as Ronaldo’s Portugal came face to face against Lewandowski’s Poland, the game with the all the hype because of the two legendary superstars of modern football, the game started to live up to all that hype with a 2nd minute strike from Lewandowski and it seemed that Portugal’s luck had run his life but a 33rd minute sensational strike from Portugese prodigy Renato Sanches, put Portugal back on track again, although the game like every other Portugal game in the competition ended without any result in 90 minutes and with extra time added. Dreaded, Portugal again somehow made their way to the semis by winning the shootout. Meanwhile, France played like the favorites and ran rampage over Iceland in a 5-2 win with Griezmann, Giroud, Pogba, Payet all on the scoresheet.
With Portugal facing Wales, who were living their fairytale till now and France facing Germany, Euros was all set for a dreamy final where a dark horse faces the favorites.
It was Bale vs. Ronaldo and Determination vs. Experience. With the strikes from Nani and then Ronaldo, helped Portugal win their first game inside the 90 minute mark and for the first time they looked like they meant business and as they shut Bale pretty well and handled Wales comfortably. Meanwhile France all geared up against the World Champions. France started well with a wavy run and a weaker shot on Neuer’s goal from Griezmann but Germany pulled the game back in their favour sooner, and dominated the ball with a few chances here and there. Right before the half time a handball by the German Captain in his own penalty box gave the chance to Griezmann to put the Les Blues up front from the penalty spot, and he drilled it in. France led Germany 1-0 at the half time, in second half Germans were pushed back from the wave of attacks from France one after the other and again a 72nd minute strike from Griezmann put France breaking the jinx and registering a long awaited win against Germany at big stage. Now as Portugal stands up shoulder to shoulder against France tomorrow in Stade de France. Les Blues have a chance to win a major tournament after ’06 World Cup. There are other intriguing aspects to this France team. Not least the mix of veteran and youthful talents and the inspiring sporting back-stories of many of the players, from N’Golo Kanté’s rise from Ligue 2 via Leicester to the decisive presence of the itinerant Antoine Griezmann. There is, of course, another team involved. Portugal are also deserving finalists, as all finalists are. Their progress has been tenacious rather than thrilling and there will be a temptation to cast these teams in contrasting lights.
In Ronaldo and Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, the Stade de France will host what looks like European football’s present against its future. Portugal have a nagging, slightly fussy style, whereas France like to strike quickly and with electrifying pace. In textural terms, this could yet pan out as Portugal’s light drizzle against France’s violent hailstorms. Plus, Portugal are the clear underdog, a nation of 10 million that has overachieved consistently against the hosts, two-times champions and De Facto Cradle of the Uefa-zone game.
The French national side are not just the emotional choice to win this final. For all of Portugal’s qualities, the hosts look stronger in almost every area, with greater peaks of talent and greater thrust in their attacking play. Ronaldo remains the obvious variable. What makes Les Blues my pick of the tournament is the fact that they have a winning momentum, a team being driven on by flare, determination and the will to win rather than being dragged down by the pressure of hosting a tournament, it’s own burdens and emotions.
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