PARIS — France and Portugal will meet at Stade de France in Saint-Denis on Sunday for the 2016 UEFA European Championship final.
For the hosts, it is a chance to win a third Euro title and a first since Euro 2000 in Belgium. It would also be the third time that Les Bleus have won an international tournament on home soil, having won the 1998 FIFA World Cup at Stade de France and Euro '84 at Parc des Princes in Paris.
The French love playing at home, and the only time they won a title outside of their own borders was 16 years ago, when a 2-1 win over Italy after extra time secured the Henri Delaunay trophy at De Kuip in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Euro 2000 was shared by France’s neighbours, Belgium and the Netherlands, so the two-time winners did not have to travel far to compete.
Judging by previous events, home support will be important for Didier Deschamps’ men come Sunday at Stade de France.
Enter Portugal. Fernando Santos’ team have scraped their way into this weekend’s final with just one win over the regulation 90 minutes.
The Selecao failed to beat Iceland, Austria and Hungary in Group F, qualifying as the third best of the four best third-place group finishers.
In the latter stages, they needed extra time to eliminate Croatia and penalties to oust Poland before finally beating Wales 2-0 in the semi-final.
To say that Portugal deserve their place in the final is perhaps stretching it a bit, as there have been a number of other sides who have played better football and been more enjoyable to watch.
However, Santos’ brand of results-based coaching has produced this opportunity to win a first-ever major international trophy, and the Portuguese will be desperate to take it after near misses at Euro 2000, Euro 2004 on home soil, World Cup 2006 and Euro 2012.
Home advantage has played a big role in France’s run to this summer’s final, and the strong level of support Portugal have enjoyed all over the host country has also had an extremely positive influence on their journey to Stade de France to meet the home nation.
Speaking after his team beat Germany 2-0 at Stade Velodrome on Thursday, French coach Deschamps once again paid tribute to the fantastic atmosphere created by the home fans in Marseille and throughout the tournament, per Ligue 1's website:
When you see the passion and the fervour in the stands and around the ground… This team has everything it takes to be loved. It's a great feeling—we had to suffer but never gave up. This is a great story. The players wrote history by knocking out Germany. We don't have the power to solve people's problems but we can generate emotions so they forget their worries. We generate passion and fervour, we can see that.
In many ways, France meeting Portugal is the perfect European Championship final as far as the host nation—particularly its capital city—is concerned.
As detailed by the Institut national de la statistique et des etudes economiques’ (INSEE) report from 2013 (in French), Portugal have the most people living in France of all European countries.
Narrow that search field down to just Paris, and the same 2013 INSEE report (in French) illustrates that Portugal have the most people living in the French capital of all European countries.
From possible Euro 2016 opponents, only Turkish and Italian people come close to rivalling the Portuguese in France—particularly in Paris—and even then, the gap between them is still substantial.
As somebody who has watched football in Paris for many years, I can tell you that games against Portuguese sides are special. Although there is no real animosity there, it is something of a friendly, playful rivalry instead.
Whether it is the national team, domestic giants such as FC Porto and S.L. Benfica, or even a smaller club like S.C. Braga, the capital city’s Portuguese residents turn out in their droves to watch sides from their home country at club or international level.
It is little wonder why French champions Paris Saint-Germain identified Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the players capable of replacing Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Parc des Princes until the Real Madrid man distanced himself from a summer move in an interview with Jugones de LaSexta (h/t ESPN FC).
If the 31-year-old makes the switch to PSG in the future, Les Parisiens will be able to tap into a potentially lucrative new audience of thousands of loyal Portuguese football supporters who would no doubt flock to Parc des Princes to watch Ronaldo in action, regardless of the opposition.
Ibrahimovic was a hit in Paris because of his unique talent on the pitch and Parisians’ ability to identify with his attitude and character off it, but Ronaldo would be a success on a whole different level and draw a sizeable crowd against any French side.
The atmosphere created by the Portuguese fans in attendance at those matches I have witnessed has never been anything less than impressive.
Having seen those fans supporting their national team in a friendly at the Stade de France as recently as October of 2014, which France won 2-1—incidentally, Santos’ debut as the Selecao's coach—it is safe to say that Sunday will be a festival of colour and noise.
So, although Les Bleus will still be able to call upon the backing of their vociferous supporters, their Portuguese counterparts will almost certainly cancel out the home fans in terms of noise.
Although this will not win them the match or make them automatic favourites, it does detract somewhat from the home advantage aspect of the game. Crucially, it means that Santos' players will not feel alone once they reach the pitch.
Without that significant edge for France, are Portugal’s chances of beating the hosts in the final enhanced?
It will help, but the fact that France have played the better football so far this summer and that star man Antoine Griezmann is in better form than Ronaldo at present will still be extremely influential on the final score.
Regardless of the result, Paris will witness major celebrations after the final whistle in Saint-Denis on Sunday.
The question is, will it be the French who are jubilant, or will the city’s Portuguese residents hold the bragging rights?