Portugal (+300) vs France (-110), Draw (+210)
From the slow-clapping Iceland fans, to the Irish and Swedes singing ABBA, the good and bad of soccer fandom has been on full display during the Euro 2016 tournament. This Sunday at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis (3:00 PM Eastern) could be the most awe-inspiring moment yet if the host nation France (5-0-1) can beat Portugal (3-0-3) to claim their third European Championship.
France have only experienced highs so far in this tournament, not losing a single game to this point and leading the tournament in goals-for. Antoine Griezmann has all but locked up the Golden Boot for Euro 2016 (six goals in six matches), and his take on the “hotline bling” dance has become an international sensation. Les Bleus loyals across the nation have been celebrating non-stop. But Portuguese fans know how quickly these good times can end.
In 2004, as the host of the Euro, Portugal came into the final against Greece as big favorites, only to be upset on home turf. Now the cleat is on the other foot, as Cristiano Ronaldo and his side have a chance to pull off a great upset over the French at home.
The Portuguese run to this final has looked similar to the Greeks before them, in that the soccer has been ugly, but they’ve been disciplined enough to outlast their opponents. Their 2-0 victory over Wales was their first win this tournament to come within 90 minutes. Ronaldo had a goal and an assist in that victory, but the forward hasn’t been able to string together two strong games in a row this tournament.
It’s obvious he’ll need to be at his best on Sunday: if there is a weakness to exploit on this French side, it’s their mediocre back line. Germany were able to generate some great scoring opportunities off of France’s poor spacing, but they couldn’t pot any of their 17 shots in Thursday’s 2-0 loss.
France will generate plenty of their own opportunities in the finals thanks to a loaded midfield led by Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet. Portugal will likely spend most of the match on their heels, relying on guys like 18-year-old Renato Sanches to step up when they get a scoring chance.
Adding to the daunting task facing Portugal is the fact that France has ten straight victories in the head-to-head, dating back to 1975. The French have also won the two previous major tournaments they’ve hosted: the 1998 World Cup and the 1984 Euro.
It all adds up to a seemingly inevitable outcome: France lifting the trophy in front of thousands of screaming fans. But a big part of me thinks (or perhaps hopes) that Portugal can push back against the French enough to give us a memorable final. So I’ll roll with the draw.
Pick: Draw (+210).
(Photo credit: SKHAN31 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)