France and Portugal meet in the final of the European Championship as Didier Deschamps and Fernando Santos’ side do battle for continental glory.
But who will emerge victorious? And are Antoine Griezmann and Cristiano Ronaldo really equals, as the French press have claimed?
Andy Brassell, a French and Portuguese football expert for the BBC and ESPN, previews the final with Sport360’s Mark Lomas.
PARIS, France — Didier Deschamps does not like losing. During a distinguished career on the pitch and now in the dugout, he has been well accustomed to the taste of la victoire.
On Sunday, the France coach has the opportunity to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy above his head for the second time. It is an achievement that would see him emulate Germany’s Berti Vogts, the only other man to have won the European Championship as player and manager.
When France triumphed at Euro 2000, as when they secured World Cup glory two years earlier, Deschamps was their indefatigable captain. He experienced a victory over Sunday’s opponents Portugal in the semi-finals, before leading his side to a dramatic triumph over Italy.
Deschamps was not a marauding match-winner for Les Bleus, no great entertainer. He was a thorn among roses. But despite being derided as a ‘water-carrier’ by Eric Cantona because of his limitations as a footballer, ‘trophy carrier’ is now perhaps a more accurate description of the decorated Deschamps.
“He was not a beautiful player like Zinedine Zidane or Thierry Henry but he was always the leader,” Thomas Pitrel, of French football magazine So Foot, explains. “He thinks about only one thing and that is to win.
“He was not considered a very good player but he won everything and it is the same as a coach. He can be seen as boring but he does everything with one idea and the French public has more belief in him with every game that passes. Winning is the only thing he thinks about. It is the same philosophy now as then.”
France’s Euro 2000 winners certainly exhibited Deschamps’ infectious never-say-die spirit in the final – fighting back from 1-0 down as a late equaliser from Sylvain Wiltord was followed by David Trezeguet’s memorable golden goal.
His 2016 vintage appear equally incompatible with failure. At this European Championship France have had to come from behind to beat Ireland, and scored three goals in the 89thminute or later. Against Germany it was evident, too. They may have been comprehensively outplayed, but it was France and not the world champions who found a way to win.
Deschamps is about fight not flamboyance, pragmatism over personality. It is an approach that has served him well. As a player he won the Champions League twice and claimed five league titles during spells with Marseille and Juventus, while in his early throes as a coach he took a limited Monaco side to the Champions League final – defeat coming to another unrelenting winner in Jose Mourinho and Porto.
Next came a return to Juventus, whom he guided to the Serie B title in the wake of post-Calciopoli implosion and demotion, before another former club were inspired – Marseille taken to a first Ligue 1 title since Deschamps himself celebrated winning the league as a player almost two decades earlier.
Now, though, comes the biggest challenge of his coaching career. He has helped transform the French national team, the infamous transgressions of the 2010 World Cup firmly forgotten. Laurent Blanc deserves some credit here for helping facilitate change, Deschamps’ World Cup-winning team-mate fighting the post-South Africa fires and creating a solid foundation from which his successor could build.
But make no mistake, this team belongs to Deschamps. Though crowd-pleasing players like Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann may suggest otherwise, it is a team constructed in the coach’s image. Deschamps has regularly heralded the ‘character’ of his players throughout this tournament and if they demonstrate that determination again against Portugal, the remarkable scenes that their boss experienced on the Champs d’Elysees when France won the World Cup on home soil in 1998 may well be repeated.
Expectation is now at fever pitch in Paris, with fans and media alike now believing that this version of Les Bleus has the mental capacity to emerge victorious. But one man has remained a picture of cool.
“There’s no tension,” Deschamps said to a packed press conference in Paris ahead of the final. “I don’t feel any pressure, I don’t have any stress. There’s adrenaline though and adrenaline is good. Clearly it’s a very important time in my career.
“But when I took this role as head coach of the national team it was not just to take part in these competitions. It was to get to matches like this. It was to win.”
As Euro 2016 heads to Sunday’s final between Portugal and hosts France in Paris, there have been many memorable performances throughout the tournament.
Here, we look at those players who have lit up the competition and those who endured a summer to forget.
GARETH BALE – WALES
While the Real Madrid man certainly did not carry the rest of the Wales squad to the semi-finals single-handedly, he scored two signature free-kicks and the last goal in a superb 3-0 win over Russia.
LEONARDO BONUCCI – ITALY
It is always hard for a defender to be included in such a list but Bonucci followed in the footsteps of the likes of Fabio Cannavaro and Paolo Maldini in drawing the plaudits for a superb showing, scoring the equaliser in the quarter-finals against Germany from the penalty spot only to see Italy beaten in a shootout after the 1-1 draw.
ANTOINE GRIEZMANN- FRANCE
The first man since compatriot Michel Platini to score five or more goals in a European Championship tournament, the Atletico Madrid hitman has been in fine form for the hosts. His six goals have led France to the final and he grabbed a brace as they beat Germany 2-0 in the last four.
DIMITRI PAYET – WEST HAM
Following a fantastic first season in the Premier League with West Ham, Payet went into the tournament as a fixture in the home side. He scored a last-gasp winner in the tournament opener against Romania to set the tone for Didier Deschamps’ men and struck again, this time in the sixth minute of injury time, against Albania before adding his third of the tournament in the quarter-final win over Iceland.
RENATO SANCHEZ – PORTUGAL
Sanches signed for Bayern Munich ahead of the tournament and the 18-year-old has shown why the Bundesliga giants have made such an investment. Although he only appeared in cameo appearances from the bench in the group stages, the former Benfica midfielder was named man of the match after scoring and playing all 120 minutes in the quarter-final penalty shootout victory over Poland.
JOE HART – ENGLAND
Went into the tournament as Roy Hodgson’s undisputed number one but the Manchester City goalkeeper did not cover himself in glory, allowing a Bale free-kick to beat him from long-range and then being at fault for Iceland’s winning goal in the round of 16 as Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s effort passed through his hands.
ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC – SWEDEN
Fresh from a Ligue 1 campaign where he scored 38 goals, the self-proclaimed legend departed Paris St Germain and looked to lead Sweden to the latter stages of the Euros. Instead he captained the side to just one point, with the 34-year-old not scoring and having just one shot on target as Sweden crashed out at the group stage. International retirement and a move to Manchester United followed.
THOMAS MULLER – GERMANY
The Bayern Munich forward has scored 10 World Cup goals during his career but is still to find the back of the net in a European finals. And he was found wanting again when Die Mannschaft needed his goalscoring prowess, missing some good chances, including a penalty in the shootout victory against Italy, and failing to lead the line with any success in the semi-final defeat to France.
RAHEEM STERLING – ENGLAND
The winger seemingly had the world at his feet after a near-£50million move to Manchester City last summer but the former Liverpool man suffered a stuttering season, following it up with a shocking Euros. Other than earning the penalty in the defeat to Iceland after a shock recall to the starting XI, the 21-year-old’s performances were that ordinary he was jeered by some England fans – as well as being targeted on social media.
SIMONE ZAZA – ITALY
There is one main reason why the 25-year-old Juventus forward flopped at the Euros – his shocking penalty miss in the quarter-final shootout defeat to Germany. Having been introduced from the bench in the dying moments of extra-time purely to take a spot-kick, Zaza’s peculiar run-up before blazing his effort sky-high over the crossbar will be an enduring memory of the tournament – with the internet awash with Photoshopped mockery and memes.