Euro 2016 final: France battles Portugal

Be wary of Ronaldo, Deschamps warns France
France coach, Didier Deschamps has urged his players to be constantly mindful of Cristiano Ronaldo in today’s Euro 2016 final, just as the stated that the Ballon d’Or will be a battle between the Portugal captain and Lionel Messi.

Deschamps said he wanted France’s rising star Antoine Griezmann to be on the world player of the year list, but he would have to wait to get the honour.

“Antoine is still a young player, even if he has had a very great season. Ronaldo has been at the summit for seven or eight years. There are two men in for the Ballon d’Or – its between him and Messi,” said the tactician.

Deschamps accepts that Ronaldo is often unstoppable.

“If there’s an anti-Ronaldo plan, no-one’s found it,” Deschamps told a press conference at Stade de France on Saturday.

Ronaldo, 31, carries his country’s hopes of victory into the final, where Fernando Santos hopes to become the first coach to lead Portugal to a major title.

The Real Madrid megastar provided an illustration of his gifts with a majestic, soaring header in Portugal’s 2-0 semi-final win over Wales and Deschamps is wary of his aerial prowess.

“He’s a really great player with athletic quality, particularly in the air,” said the former France captain, who has a fully fit squad at his disposal.

“He really hangs in the air – those chocolate squares (abdominal muscles) don’t count for nothing.

“In football, the most difficult things to fight against are pace and aerial ability. It will be important to remain attentive and restrict his influence.”

Deschamps, 47, is bidding to win his first trophy as France manager, having previously led the country to glory as a player in the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship.

Asked how he transmitted his winning mentality to his players, he said: “It’s the quality of the players, above all, and the team spirit. It’s my work with my staff.

“We’ve had two years of friendly matches (because France, as hosts, did not have to qualify). We didn’t win them all, but we did our best to preserve that team spirit.

“There’s nothing greater than winning and you have to do everything to get there. Football is not an exact science and it often comes down to the little things.

“But when you feel like you’ve given everything, you have no regrets.”

Pepe returns for final showdown
france-vs-portugalPortugal on Saturday received a boost when central defender, Pepe trained with his team-mates and appeared to be free of any injury problems ahead of today’s Euro 2016 final against hosts, France.

The Brazilian-born defender missed the semi-final win over Wales on Wednesday because of a thigh injury and had trained separately on Friday.

But Pepe, 33, took a full part in Saturday’s exercises which were witnessed by reporters during the 15 minutes in which training was open to the media and he appeared to be ready to face the Les Bleus in today’s final.

Pepe, who was sent off against Germany in the 2014 World Cup, was outstanding in the centre of the Portugal defence in their first five games at the tournament.

The Portuguese football federation did not comment on his condition.

This is my highest career point —Portugal coach
MANAGER Fernando Santos has said today’s clash with hosts, France remains the highest task in his career, as he leads Portugal to Stade de France for the final of the Euro 2016 championship.

Portugal has never won the prestigious title before, while Santos believes he would rewrite history in France tonight.

Santos has remained unbeaten in 13 competitive games, covering Euro 2016 qualifying and the finals.

“The final will be the highest point in my career so far,” the 61-year-old Santos said. “It’s about my country, my flag, my fatherland, my friends, and my family. From a personal point of view it’s very important.”

The mission to revive Portugal’s fortunes began 21 months ago against France with a friendly that was lost 0-1 on the outskirts of Paris.

Santos will return with Portugal to the same stadium today to face the Les Bleus in a winner takes all affair.

“My first game at the helm of the team was two years ago, and our goal was to reach here (the final),” Santos said. “Thankfully everything worked out for us. We are stronger, more solid, more united.”

Portugal crashed out of the 2014 World Cup in the group stage, while Euro 2016 qualifying opened with an embarrassing 0-1 loss to Albania, a result which led to the resignation of coach Paulo Bento.

Santos, a title-winner with Porto took Greece to Euro 2012 quarter-finals and the 2014 World Cup last 16 before he took over Portugal.

Griezmann is as good as Ronaldo —Sagna

France right back, Bacary Sagna, who will face the daunting task of keeping a close eye on Cristiano Ronaldo in today’s Euro 2016 final, said team-mate Antoine Griezmann now belonged to the same elite club as the Portugal forward.

“Ronaldo, we know him. He’s one of the best players in the world – if not the best – and he has worked very hard to get there,” Sagna told a news conference on Saturday.

“Antoine, to me, is right up there too, in the same league as Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.”

Griezmann, who left for Spain as a teenager after being turned down by French academies because he was regarded as not being big enough, matured to become one of the world’s most dangerous strikers.

“It’s a kind of revenge for him after the French academies wouldn’t take him,” Sagna said. “He made it the hard way and he deserves to be where he is.”

Griezmann, who steered Atletico Madrid to the Champions League final this season, has scored six goals so far in the tournament, more than any player since France’s Michel Platini hit a record nine at the 1984 finals.

Sagna’s immediate problem is Ronaldo, recovering from a sluggish start to the tournament and hungry for his first major title with Portugal.

“He’s an exceptional player and it won’t be easy,” Sagna said. “What you have to do is keep a close eye on him all the time, stay close to him and make sure you don’t allow him too much space.”

Sagna, usually happy to let others take the limelight, has won praise for his performances since the start of the tournament.

Softly spoken off the pitch, he has shown his determination on it, notably when he was seen shouting at sometimes shaky centre back Adil Rami. Facing Ronaldo, the Manchester City defender said, would not be a problem.

“I’m used to playing against excellent players every weekend so no, I’m not afraid,” he said.