Euro fever grips France, Portugal as final looms
Patriotic fervour gripped Euro 2016 hosts France and Portugal on Friday with Antoine Griezmann and Cristiano Ronaldo cast as the rival superheros ahead of the tournament final.
France saw a return to the feverish days of 1998 when Zinedine Zidane guided the country to a World Cup triumph. Portugal go into Sunday’s final seeking to erase their football nightmare of losing the Euro 2004 final on home ground to unheralded Greece.
National celebrations broke out across France after Griezmann scored twice in a famous 2-0 win over Germany in Marseille on Thursday.
A penalty awarded seconds before half-time caused turmoil in the German camp. Griezmann made no mistake with the spot kick and scored again in the second half to extend his lead as the tournament’s top scorer with six goals.
It was France’s first victory over their rivals in a major tournament since 1958. There have been three heartbreak defeats in the World Cup since.
Air horns and blue-red-white tricolor flags dominated the night-time streets after the win. Some 90,000 people watching the game on a giant screen under the Eiffel Tower erupted in joy.
Riot police charged youths who caused trouble on the Champs Elysees avenue however.
“There is a lot of fervour and a lot of joy and happiness,” said French coach Didier Deschamps. “This team has done everything possible to be loved and it makes me very proud.”
– ‘No doubt’ for PM –
Politicians sought to catch the wave of football popularity. “I never doubted France’s victory” in the semi-final, said Prime Minister Manuel Valls, adding that he was also “confident” for the final.
After their image was tainted by player strikes at the 2010 World Cup and star striker Karim Benzema being implicated in a sextape blackmail, polls show the French nation overwhelmingly behind Deschamps’ team.
Tens of thousands have also packed Lisbon squares to watch Portugal’s matches on giant screens. Much attention will be on superstar Ronaldo, who has won virtually everything as a club player but no trophy with his country.
Portugal midfielder Joao Mario said Friday that his country’s 11 million people also believe their team will win.
“Probabilities don’t win matches,” said the Sporting Lisbon star when asked about French hopes of a home win on Sunday.
“They can believe that but 100 percent of the Portuguese people believe in a Portugal win,” he told a press conference.
“Twelve years ago we were playing in Portugal and there was an incredible atmosphere across the country,” he said.
Portugal lost the Euro 2004 final in Lisbon to Greece in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.
“I hope this time we will be the winners,” said Joao Mario. “We believe in ourselves, we have always believed. The coach (Fernando Santos) has given us this confidence, this spirit.”
– Germany ‘bitter’ –
France’s win was set up by a penalty in injury time of the first half that infuriated Germany, who had dominated the game.
Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli spotted German captain Bastian Schweinsteiger handle the ball.
Griezmann sent goalkeeper Manuel Neuer the wrong way with his spot kick.
German coach Joachim Loew said he had to “calm the players down” in the dressing room at half-time because of the penalty.
Germany renewed their control of the ball in the second half but Griezmann rattled them again with a 72nd minute goal. Neuer fumbled a cross and Griezmann fired the ball home through the goalkeeper’s legs.
Deschamps said “we found it tough but we didn’t give up,” praising his players’ determination.
“I’ve always believed in my players,” said Deschamps. “The ones I chose to form this squad have repaid me handsomely. This is their story, their victory.”
Griezmann was particularly relieved to have scored the penalty, having missed one when Atletico Madrid played in the Champions League final against Ronaldo’s Real Madrid in May.
“I wanted to take a penalty again in an important moment and I’m happy I did, and happy I scored,” he said.
Germany felt the defeat was harsh.
“We have played well at these European Championship finals, but we’re out. That’s very bitter,” said Neuer. “It’s not a fair result.”
Loew refused to say whether he would extend his time as Germany’s manager beyond the campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.