We are finally there; the end is in sight. France and Portugal are making a sprint for the ultimate finish line. On Sunday, after the final 90 minutes of Euro 2016 are played, who will hoist the Henri Delaunay trophy high over their heads with a cry of triumph and who will dejectedly fall to the pitch of the Stade de France.
Return on Semifinals:
In the 1st of the two semifinal matchups, Portugal downed Wales 2-0. I had predicted a Welsh victory however the two Portuguese goals at the start of the 2nd half proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for Wales. Without the talented Aaron Ramsey in their lineup, Wales were not able to create much of an offensive spark and they eventually paid a hefty price. With a full squad, I believe that the Welsh could have beaten Portugal but we must still remember that this small footballing nation had a remarkable run deep into Euro 2016. They made it further than either of the other participants from the United-Kingdom.
In the second semifinal matchup, France downed Germany 2-0. Antoine Griezmann's brace clinched my prediction of a French victory over world champions Germany. Even though the Germans largely dominated possession, they were not able to find the back of the net. Their finishing in the final third was clearly lacking but that may be attributed to the absence of their striker Mario Gomez due to injury
Road to the Final:
Portugal: The Portuguese finished third in group F behind Iceland and Hungary. They drew every single one of their group stage matches. Their most memorable one being a goal filled 3-3 affair with the Hungarians. Portugal were only able to manage a 1-1 draw with Iceland and they qualified for the group stage as one of the four best 3rd placed teams. However, Portugal was placed on the easier side of the bracket.
Portugal opened their knockout stage with a match against Croatia. In that match, neither team was impressive. The only shot on target during the entire game was a goal in the 116th minute. All in all, both teams played extremely poorly and probably neither deserved to advance.
Portugal's win over Croatia propelled them into their quarterfinal match with the Poles. Poland's star striker, Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring early before Portuguese youngster Renato Sanches equalized the score line. Portugal went on to win on penalties.
In the semifinals, Ronaldo and company faced off versus Gareth Bale and his Welsh teammates. After a scoreless 1st half, Portugal showed us a hint of their true goal scoring abilities when they scored twice in a span of three minutes. That match concluded Portugal's unremarkable qualification for the final.
France: The host nation finished first in group A with seven points, ahead of Switzerland, Romania and Albania. France's group stage was marked with a series of late goals that ensured the French advanced as the top ranked team. The only game in which France did not secure all three points was a 0-0 draw with Switzerland. Even though France qualified as a top ranked team, they were placed on the more difficult side of the bracket.
As a reward for finishing 1st in their group, France played the Republic of Ireland in the round of 16. This relatively easy match nearly turned into a disaster for the hosts since they were down a goal deep into the 2nd half. Two goals in rapid succession from Antoine Griezmann assured France passage into the quarterfinals.
France's opponent in that quarterfinal match was Iceland. The small island nation had surprised many by making it that far but the French were the end of the road for Iceland. France broke down Iceland's defense on multiple occasions on their way to a smooth 5-2 win.
In the semifinals, France faced off versus the talented and experienced German squad. Their formidable opponents largely dominated ball control but the French once again found savior in Griezmann. The Atletico Madrid man buried a penalty in stoppage time at the end of the 1st half and scored a 2nd goal in the last 45 minutes to propel France into the final at the Stade de France on Saturday.
France vs Portugal: The French will have the thunderous backing of their home fans as well as the Euro's leading goal scorer, Antoine Griezmann, on their side. The French have yet to lose a major tournament on home soil and they will not be eager to do so at the Stade de France. The French have played impressive football during all stages of the tournament and they definitely have the talent to merit an appearance in the Euro finals with the likes of Paul Pogba and Hugo Lloris on their roster.
Portugal have not shown the same flashes of brilliance as the French. They briefly demonstrated their true goal scoring talent during a 3-minute interval in the Wales match but other than that, the Portuguese have not been very impressive. Their first and only regulation time win of the tournament came in the semifinals. Portugal have some very talented names in their roster like Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Pepe but the question remains as to whether or not they will gel together and play to the best of their abilities in Sunday's final. If they do so, they will have a chance versus the French. However, I am not sure this will happen and I believe that the home crowd as well as France's positive momentum coming into this match will push the French over the hump and permit them to become the footballing champions of Europe. Prediction: France