PARIS: For Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal the Euro 2016 final today offers a golden opportunity to end a miserable record in meetings with France. As well as having home advantage and history on their side from wins in their last two major tournament finals on home soil, Les Bleus can claim to be Portugal’s bete noire. France have won their last 10 meetings with the Portuguese since going down 2-0 in a friendly back in 1975, and their head-to-head record includes victories in all three clashes at major competitions.
The first of those came at the 1984 European Championship in France, when the hosts triumphed 3-2 after extra time in a dramatic semi-final in Marseille. Penalties beckoned at the Stade Velodrome when Michel Platini appeared to score a 119th-minute winner to send France through to a final against Spain where they lifted the Henri Delaunay trophy for the first time.
“So much sadness, frustration and disappointment. Even today it is very painful to talk about that match,” said Jaime Pacheco, who played for Portugal that night, in a recent interview with French newspaper Le Parisien.
“But, to be fair, France were better than us. They deserved to win the match and the Euro.” There was more agony for the Selecao in the Euro 2000 semi-finals, when a great side featuring Luis Figo and Rui Costa led in Brussels before eventually losing 2-1.
Nuno Gomes put Portugal in front but Thierry Henry equalised for the world champions and Zinedine Zidane scored a golden goal winner from the penalty spot three minutes from the end of extra time. Again France went on to win the continental crown while Portugal were left to rue the officials’ decision to penalise Abel Xavier for a handball in the box as a shoot-out again loomed.
“I tried to calm the players, it was the first time an assistant referee had given a penalty,” the Portugal coach that night, Humberto Coelho, told L’Equipe of the mood in the dressing room after the game. “It was difficult because it was the end. And yet we were ‘programmed’ to win. I am sure that if we had reached the final we would have won it.”
More heartache followed in 2006, when the team that had stumbled at the final hurdle of Euro 2004 on home soil lost in the last four of the World Cup. Another Zidane penalty in the first half in Munich took the French through to a final they eventually lost in a shoot-out against Italy. Ronaldo trudged off the field in tears that night. He has declared his wish to be crying tears of joy after Sunday’s final at the Stade de France.
And on Portugal’s side is the fact that two other long-running hexes have been broken at the Euros. Germany beat Italy for the first time in nine attempts at major tournaments, albeit on penalties in the quarter-finals. France then beat the Germans in the semi-finals after high profile defeats in their last three competitive encounters. “They are playing at home and are entitled to believe they can win. It had been a long time since they had beaten Germany and they did it,” admitted Portugal midfielder Joao Mario on Friday.
“We are aware of our past defeats against France, but that can give us extra strength and motivation.” France also beat Portugal in a friendly in Lisbon as recently as last September and won 2-1 with goals from Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba in a friendly at the Stade de France in October 2014. But Joao Mario added: “Probability doesn’t win matches. The French can believe in this, but 100 percent of Portuguese also believe Portugal can win and that is what we are going to focus on.” – AFP