PARIS (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann will meet for another title showdown when Portugal faces France in the European Championship final on Sunday, just six weeks after they contested the Champions League final.
Ronaldo was on the winning side with Real Madrid at the continental showpiece in Milan, with the Portugal captain scoring the decisive spot kick in a penalty shootout against Griezmann’s Atletico Madrid.
This time, Ronaldo could be in for a disappointment.
Not only will France have the host nation crowd behind it at the Stade de France, but Griezmann has been on sparkling form with a tournament-leading six goals — double the tally of Ronaldo, who has toiled and grumbled his way through Portugal’s stodgy campaign.
“We’re thrilled, we feel like kids,” Griezmann said. “We know the whole country is behind us, so we’re giving everything for them.”
Both goals in France’s semifinal victory over World Cup holder Germany were scored by Griezmann, who managed to convert a penalty to ease the pain of missing one in the Champions League final in May.
“He’s had a great tournament but we won’t just be focusing on him,” Portugal midfielder Joao Mario said Friday of Griezmann.
If Griezmann can keep up his scoring run and deliver silverware for his nation, the 25-year-old forward would not only collect his first major trophy but potentially become a challenger to Ronaldo for the Ballon D’Or.
Griezmann, however, only needs to glimpse into Ronaldo’s early career to see how a host nation can be upstaged in a European Championship final. Ronaldo has waited 12 years, since Portugal lost to Greece at Euro 2004, for another shot at national glory with every major club honor now gathered.
Ronaldo has only scored in two of Portugal’s six games in France, and yet he is only one goal away from scoring a 10th European Championship goal and breaking Michel Platini’s 32-year record.
But France’s pedigree in finals is far stronger than Portugal’s, particularly at home where the prize was collected at the 1984 European Championship and 1998 World Cup. The only time France has won silverware away from Paris was Euro 2000, while the sole final loss was on penalties to Italy at the 2006 World Cup.
France has won its last 10 games against Portugal, whose last victory over the hosts came in 1975. And Fernando Santos, who began his reign 21 months ago with a loss to France in the Stade de France, has seen his team win only once inside 90 minutes at Euro 2016 — against Wales in the semifinals.
“Criticism is part of football, we know that’s how things work,” Mario said. “We don’t think about this type of criticisms ... we want to win to make the Portuguese happy and go down in history.”
That could hinge on whether Pepe recovers from the thigh muscle injury that kept him out of the 2-0 victory over Wales. The central defender trained away from his teammates on Friday morning, only doing ball work with a member of the Portuguese staff.
The key decision for Deschamps seems to be whether to restore N’Golo Kante to the starting lineup and drop Moussa Sissoko.
France has only failed to win one of its games in the tournament, a 0-0 draw with Switzerland in the group stage.
“We’ve grown,” midfielder Paul Pogba said. “We’re more mature.”
Winning the final would be a cathartic experience for a country still in a state of emergency following a wave of extremist attacks across Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people. The attacks began at the Stade de France where suicide bombers detonated devices after failing to force their way into France’s match against Germany. The sole victim at the stadium was a chauffeur, who was born in Portugal
Intense safety measures have in place at the 10 stadiums hosting the tournament and there have been no major security incidents over the last month.
The country, though, is still scarred by last year’s atrocities.
“We don’t have the power to solve people’s problems,” France coach Didier Deschamps said, reflecting on the national trauma. “But we can generate emotions so they forget their worries. We generate passion and fervor. We can see that.”