Pepe remains a doubt for Portugal with his thigh injury but other than that both squads are at full strength. William Carvalho is available again after suspension and will probably return for Danilo Pereira who replaced him at the back of midfield for the semi-final win over Wales.
Against Germany, Samuel Umtiti retained his place at the heart of France’s defence despite Adil Rami being available again after suspension and responded with a superb display. He will almost certainly keep his place. Moussa Sissoko was also excellent against Germany but there is a chance he could miss out for N’Golo Kante if Didier Deschamps opts for the security of the 4-3-3 over the 4-2-3-1.
After four slightly underwhelming displays in which improved second halves put right problematic first halves, France found their attacking in the quarter-final against Iceland, four first-half goals settling a game that finished 5-2. The semi-final win over Germany was about defensive resolve, heart and taking what chances came their way.
That victory could inspire France or it could leave them emotionally exhausted. The pattern in the tougher half of the draw has been for a team to achieve a notable win but then lose their next game: Italy beat Spain but lost to Germany who lost to France. Sustaining the necessary technical level is one thing sustaining the intensity something else.
Portugal, after an indifferent group stage, have also grown as the tournament has gone, Fernando Santos’s rejigged midfield conceding just one goal in 300 minutes of knockout football.
France’s record against Portugal is good. They’ve won 18 of 24 meetings, including the last 10, a run stretching back to 1975.
They’ve also won all three competitive meetings: a World Cup semi-final in 2006, settled by a Zinedine Zidane penalty; a European Championship semi-final in 2000, settled by a golden-goal Zidane penalty; and the famous semi-final at Euro 84 when France scored twice in the final six minutes of extra-time to win 3-2.
The big decision for Deschamps is whether to go in with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. The 4-2-3-1 is more attacking and gets Antoine Griezmann close enough to Olivier Giroud to take advantage of his knockdowns but, as the first half of the semi-final showed, it risks surrendering control of midfield.
The danger of bringing back Kante, presumably at the expense of Sissoko, although possibly Dimitri Payet, who had his poorest game of the tournament in the semi-final, is that France end up playing the game on Portugal’s terms, making it a grimly attritional battle.
The danger of taking on the more attacking role, of setting Griezmann against Carvalho and looking to attack the Portuguese full-backs, is that Portugal take charge of midfield anyway placing pressure on Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba who, for all his many qualities, isn’t always the most positionally disciplined midfielder.
IMPORTANCE OF WIDTH
Portugal’s central defence has proved adept in the knockout stages at dealing with balls played into the box, so it may be a frustrating night for Giroud. The key to exposing them is from wide, where the narrow midfield may leave the full-backs exposed. There were times when Poland’s Kamil Grosicki had space and it may be that Payet and Sissoko (or Griezmann) coming from deep or wide positions can upset Portugal’s marking structures.
Equally Griezmann played centrally, even if he can’t link with Giroud, could at least drag Carvalho out of position. France will have to take the initiative in this game in a way they didn’t against Germany.
The modern Ronaldo haunts the box. He is not a player who drops back into midfield looking for the ball. He is not the dribbler he once was. In this tournament he has become some weird amalgam of an old-fashioned number nine and a ball-playing inside-right: Tommy Lawton meets Alex James.
He will focus on the space between the left-sided centre-back – probably Umtiti – and the left back, Patrice Evra. Evra has not had a great tournament and Umtiti, excellent as he was in the semi-final, is inexperienced. That channel seems a potential flaw Portugal could exploit.
Realistically, France should win. They’re a better attacking side, have played the more inventive and exciting football and have home advantage. But Portugal are doughty and hard to break down, while France’s defence until the Germany game as deeply unconvincing, and so at 4.60 they look a touch long.
That seems to leave two strategies. Either to take the conservative option and back Portugal +0.5 at 1.85 or to gamble and back Portugal to win and there to be under 2.5 goals in the game at 7.50.