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France call upon the spirit of '84 and '98 and the Euro 2016 final talking points

Antoine Griezmann can strengthen his claim for Player of the Tournament, but Cristiano Ronaldo won’t go down without a fight.

Germany v France - UEFA Euro 2016 - Semi Final - Stade Velodrome The French players celebrate their semi-final win in Marseille. Source: Thanassis Stavrakis

Updated at 15.30

Euro 2016 final: Portugal v France, Stade de France, 8pm

1. Home advantage proves pivotal again for Les Bleus

TOUTED AS PRE-tournament favourites on a par with World Cup holders Germany and ahead of outgoing European champions Spain, France have negotiated their way through the rounds and now stand just one game away from winning a major tournament on home soil — but it won’t be for the first time.

In 1984, Les Bleus hosted an eight-team European championships and, led by the majestic Michel Platini (who scored a record nine goals during the competition), Michel Hidalgo’s side topped their group before seeing off Portugal in the semi-finals and lifting the trophy thanks to a 2-0 victory over Spain at the Parc de Princes.

Soccer WCup On This Day Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly and Laurent Blanc hold the World Cup trophy aloft in '98. Source: AP/Press Association Images

When the World Cup rolled into town in 1998, France again made the most of home advantage. This time it was the genius of Zinedine Zidane that gave them the edge and two goals from him in the final sent them on their way to a 3-0 win against Brazil in front of 80,000 fans at the Stade de France.

France’s captain that night was Didier Deschamps, and he can replicate that achievement as a manager at the very same ground tonight.

2. Golden chance for Portugal’s nearly men

Not many would have tipped Portugal as potential winners after their sluggish start to the competition.

After uninspiring draws against Iceland and Austria, Cristiano Ronaldo sprang into life with a brace that clinched a point against Hungary and their place in the knockout stages.

In fact, they went five matches at this tournament without winning a game in 90 minutes — needing extra-time in the victory over Croatia and a penalty shootout with Poland.

Portugal haven’t exactly set the tournament alight, nor is the current crop seen as a vintage team, but Fernando Santos’ side have plenty of talent at their disposal and they are deserving of their place in the final.

Poland v Portugal - UEFA Euro 2016 - Quarter Final - Stade Velodrome Source: EMPICS Sport

Well-organised and hard to break down, they will be boosted by the expected return of the much-maligned Pepe, who has been excellent this month, and holding midfielder William Carvalho, who missed out on the last-four meeting with Wales through suspension.

Perennial nearly men and three-time beaten semi-finalists in this competition, this is Portugal’s first appearance in the final since their shock defeat to Greece in Lisbon at Euro 2004.

An 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo broke down in tears at the final whistle that night, and he has the chance to finally make up for that heartbreak this evening.

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3. Griezmann leading the way

It may have taken Antoine Griezmann a little bit of time to get into his stride, but the 25-year-old is one more big performance off ensuring he’s remembered as the little prince of Euro 2016.

After the disappointment of the Champions League final, in which he struck the crossbar with a second half penalty as Atletico Madrid went down to their city rivals, Griezmann was taken off just after the hour-mark in their opening group game before being dropped by Deschamps for the fixture with Albania.

However, he was introduced in the second half and got off the mark with a late header. But it’s in the knockout stages that Griezmann has burst into form — scoring five more times in three matches.

Germany v France - UEFA Euro 2016 - Semi Final - Stade Velodrome Source: Frank Augstein

Having been told that he was too slight to make it as a professional footballer in his teens, the former Real Sociedad man has worked his way to the top and leads the way in the race for the Golden Boot.

The grandson of Portuguese footballer Amaro Lopez, who played for Pacos de Ferreira, Antoine would spend summers there as a child. As fate would have it, the nation of his maternal granddad stand in the way of him and greatness.

4. Ronaldo dreams of European glory

There’s very little that Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t won at this stage of his career. Ballon d’Ors, Champions Leagues, La Liga and Premier League titles are all proof that the 31-year-old will deservedly go down as one of the greatest footballers ever to play the game.

Even this month, he has continued to reach landmarks. The goal in Portugal’s semi-final win over Wales brought his tally of goals at European championships to nine — equalling Michel Platini’s record.

Portugal v Wales - UEFA Euro 2016 - Semi-Final - Stade de Lyon Source: Laurent Cipriani

It’s safe to say Ronaldo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and his moody demeanor and petulance on the pitch makes him easy to dislike. In recent times, his role in the team has changed too, as he is a lot less mobile in the number nine position, but remains a driving force and the team’s leader.

Three goals and as many assists isn’t a bad record and if Ronaldo can lead this group to European glory it will surely be one of his finest hours.

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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