Euro 2016 has not lit up everyone’s footballing summer but big players have come to the fore once again and it’s no surprise that Antoine Griezmann is odds on for the player of the tournament award. The Atletico Madrid man struggled through the group stages out wide but was changed into a more central role for their last 16 clash against the Republic of Ireland, and as they say, the rest is history. His two goals there probably could and should have been a hat-trick whilst he scored doubles in the trashing of Iceland and then again to get past Germany. He had a little luck in the latter two – they were thanks to defensive errors – but his confidence is sky high and he is interplaying off Olivier Giroud in a style just not seen in the group stages. It is understandable that he is long odds on for player of the tournament and 9/2 favourite to be man of the match here, although one must closely consider Paul Pogba, improving a t a rate of knots since a poor start to the first two games. He has more freedom in Deschamps 4-2-3-1 system and could have scored three against Switzerland alone.
If Portugal are to win, then on the evidence of this tournament’s knockout stages, it will be a reactive rearguard effect that sees them keep their heads whilst all around lose theirs and presumably the goal will have come on the break. Of course that is speculative but Fernando Santos has set up a durable side that is hard to break down and they will hope to frustrate France as their opponents did during the group stages.
The headlines have gone to Cristiano Ronaldo but he has been ably supported by a faithful XI of which Pepe has been an integral part and the Real Madrid man will be vital in any successful effort this evening. He will battle Olivier Giroud aerially whilst shutting him off from connection with Antoine Griezmann – Portugal’s keys to shutting off the French forward threat from a central point of view. He has conceded just one goal through the knockout stages and another effort could make life very tough for the French.
The midfield battle will be just as vital, where Dimitri Payet – who lit up the tournament through the group stages – lurks dangerously. Portugal may be underrated in this aspect, with William Carvalho about to come back in but Renato Sanches is still underrated by bookmakers despite providing energy and creativity to Portugal. Winner of two man of the match awards, he had handled pressure with aplomb and created and scored his own goal against Poland to boot before a thoroughly professional showing against Wales. He is too big for a third man of the match award at 16/1.
Ronaldo makes appeal at 12/5 to score at anytime, but the 11/2 for him tos core first mamy be worth taking if France get nervous after failing to score early and that may be the best way to support him.
Advice – Man of the Match
1 pt Pepe (33/1 Paddy Power)
1 pt Renato Sanches (16/1 Paddy Power)
Advice – First Goalscorer
1 pt Cristiano Ronaldo (11/2 general)