Verdict: France win
Best odds: 5/4
In what is expected to be one of the most interesting matches at the European Championship so far, Portugal and France are set to take each other on at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium in Budapest in the final round of Group B, while Germany take on Hungary at the Allianz Arena in Munich.
The defending champions of the continent, Portugal started their campaign with a 3-0 win over Hungary, though the result doesn’t really reflect how difficult it was for them to get the three points in that match. They dominated in every measurable aspect, but Hungary defended very well, managed to hold them off for 84 minutes and even threatened at the other end on several occasions.
It took a lucky deflection from a Raphael Guerrero shot to break the deadlock with six minutes left on the clock, after which Hungary lost their grit and fell apart.
That match, however, clearly showed that Fernando Santos’ team has flaws that could be exploited by an opponent of higher quality, with all due respect to Hungary. That’s exactly what happened when Portugal faced Germany in the second round.
A simple tactical idea, moving the ball quickly from right to left with Nelson Semedo constantly drawn inside, enabled Atalanta wing-back Robin Gosens to shine, and Portugal were repeatedly undone on that flank. The result – a 2-4 defeat.
Santos will have done well to have learned the lesson and to have put together a plan to prevent a similar scenario against France.
It’s hard to imagine Santos dropping players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Dias, Pepe, or goalkeeper Rui Patricio from his team at the moment. The same goes for Guerreiro, with left-back alternative Nuno Mendes out with a thigh problem. On the other hand, he could opt for Rafa Silva in the place of Semedo on the right, or Joao Moutinho for Bruno Fernandes as the main midfield creator. The Manchester United playmaker has shown very little in the tournament so far. Renato Sanches could replace either Danilo or William Carvalho.
Diogo Jota played a poor game against Hungary but bounced back admirably with a goal and an assist against Germany, and it would be a bit of a surprise if he were to miss out on the starting XI.
Meanwhile, France took full advantage of Mats Hummels’ 20th-minute own-goal to beat Germany in the opening round. Having gone up so early, they were content to defend and threaten Manuel Neuer on the counterattack. Having a player like Kylian Mbappe in your ranks tends to help with that.
Didier Deschamps’ team could have won that match more convincingly. Germany rarely caused them any real worry, and Mbappe was certainly a handful for the experienced but not very pacey German centre-backs.
But if Deschamps and his men were happy with the three points won on the opening day, they will have been thoroughly disappointed with what happened at the Puskas Arena a few days later. Hungary defended resolutely again, and this time they went a step further and took the lead through Attila Fiola in the second minute of the first-half stoppage time.
Clearly the better team, with 66% possession and 15 shots, all France could do nonetheless was to equalize in the 66th minute, courtesy of Antoine Griezmann.
Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele suffered a knee injury in the Hungary match and will not play in the tournament again. The rest of the squad is at Deschamps’ disposal.
Having sat the last match out, Lucas Hernandez is likely to return to the left defensive flank instead of Lucas Digne. Adrien Rabiot could make way for Corentin Tolisso as well. As for the rest of the team, they all seem nailed-on to start, unless Deschamps has a change of heart for some reason yet unknown.
It means Hugo Lloris should be in goal, with Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe (and Hernandez) directly in front, with N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba (and Rabiot or Tolisso) in the middle of the park, and the established trio of Mbappe, Griezmann and Karim Benzema upfront.
Everything is still wide open in this group. France lead the way with four points, Germany and Portugal have three, and all three teams are likely to go through to the knockout stages, unless Hungary can pull off a miracle and beat Germany in Munich.
As for this match, France have shown more in this tournament so far, and they arguably have more quality. You can never rule out a team with Cristiano Ronaldo in it, but the world champions are likely to beat the reigning kings of Europe.
Verdict: France win
Best odds: 5/4
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!