Mike Holden believes Portugal will rain on France's parade on Sunday night in Paris.
Portugal have been cast as the villains of Euro 2016 for failing to entertain viewers during the knockout stages but don’t allow that to cloud your judgement of their prospects. Their ability to dictate matches and stay in control of emotions can allow them to prevail in a tense final against the hosts, so take the 19/10 available on Fernando Santos’ men to lift the trophy.
History doesn’t crawl, it jumps, and Portugal have long since paid their dues at international tournaments. After 16 years knocking at the door, fate has finally carved them a favourable path, while the Seleccao themselves appear to intuitively understand that riding the highs and lows equates to mental fatigue and isn’t conducive to fulfilling your ultimate objectives.
It might have taken them 23 days and six attempts to win a game inside 90 minutes but their contribution beyond a bizarre group stage has been a masterclass in tournament play, prioritising fuel efficiency and keeping plenty back for bigger challenges to come. Now they reach the final in the best condition imaginable and with a significant rest advantage.
The schedule was geared-up so heavily in favour of France until the quarter-final stage that it could backfire spectacularly when it matters most. The hosts have enjoyed an extra days’ rest ahead of games against Albania, the Republic of Ireland and Iceland, yet the pattern has reversed for the semi-final and final with their opposition enjoying the extra 24 hours to prepare.
By making such light work of Iceland, the vulnerability was limited next time out and fate also conspired to send a patched-up Germany side to Marseille on the back of a shoot-out win against Italy. Jogi Low’s men might have been world champions by name but their starting 11 at the Stade Velodrome was a shadow of the team that triumphed in Brazil two years ago, yet still they were dominant for most of the opening 45 minutes.
So this might be where complacency catches up with France and reality bites. Portugal come into this clash on the back of eight blank days since their quarter-final, three days more than Didier Deschamps’ men. And the last 24 hours of recharging might just be the most crucial with Les Bleus now facing the dreaded Thursday-Sunday turnaround normally reserved for Europa League participants.
History is against the Portuguese insomuch that France have won the last ten meetings, a sequence that includes major-tournament semi-final wins in 1984, 2000 and 2006. But this has been a summer of broken hoodoos with Germany ousting bogey side Italy, only to then fall at the next hurdle despite a formidable record against the French and host nations in general.
The base wager on Portugal to lift the trophy is necessary because that’s the ultimate objective and they’ve already shown a readiness to sit back and tough it out if necessary. But there’s value to be found in additional bets on Portugal to win inside 90 minutes at 15/4, the Draw/Portugal half-time/full-time option at 8/1 and Portugal to win 1-0 at 9/1.
Given the circumstances, it’s not difficult to foresee a scenario whereby the underdogs look to kill the first half as a spectacle, then prey on any tension after the interval. If Portugal break the deadlock once the opportunity to regroup has passed, the potential for a French choke is high, not least because of the pervading mood that the hard bit has already been done.
Portugal know exactly how it feels. They went through precisely this experience 12 years ago against Greece and the memory of that bitter disappointment is all the encouragement they need to believe this trophy is theirs for the taking. Santos knows all about the DNA of that Greece set-up, having replaced Otto Rehaggel in 2010, and the parallels with this Portugal side are there for all to see.