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Euro 2016 final: 3 key questions

What kind of game will we get and will Didier Deschamps stick or twist?

Where will Antoine Griezmann play?

DIDIER DESCHAMPS HAS a decision to make ahead of the final. Does he stick or twist?

N’Golo Kante was suspended for the quarter-final win over Iceland but the French coach elected to stay with a 4-2-3-1 for the Germany game – with Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi providing the double pivot and Moussa Sissoko selected to start again.

But both Pogba and Matuidi don’t possess naturally defensive minds. The Juventus man, in particular, revels when able to shake away from challenges and open the game up in advanced positions while Matuidi is used to playing further forward as part of a midfield three at Paris Saint-Germain.

Portugal have had more success in rescuing situations with 14 interceptions per game compared to France’s 12 though that’s probably not enough of a gulf to change Deschamps’ approach.

Germany v France - UEFA Euro 2016 - Semi Final - Stade Velodrome N'Golo Kante will probably start tonight's game from the bench once more. Source: Joe Giddens/EMPICS Sport

Sissoko has impressed since the Iceland win and gives Bacary Sagna much more protection on the right side than Dimitri Payet offers Patrice Evra on the opposite flank.

And the other issue for Deschamps is that the current setup, regardless of its issues, is getting the most from Antoine Griezmann.

The Atletico Madrid attacker is the star of this tournament and combines superbly with Olivier Giroud.

France v Iceland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Quarter Final - Stade de France Paul Pogba has been asked to play in an unfamiliar role by Didier Deschamps. Source: Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

With Portugal dropping deep without the ball and getting bodies back, Deschamps will probably feel his side will control the game – in contrast to how the semi-final against Germany played out.

So, the boss may be persuaded to take the risk of having no specialist defensive midfielder and keep using Pogba and Matuidi to shield their centre-halves.

He’ll gamble on Griezmann finding pockets and doing some damage.

Can Cristiano Ronaldo break Michel Platini’s record?

It wasn’t that long ago when Cristiano Ronaldo was perceived as a bitter and petulant child for his comments in the aftermath of Portugal’s draw with Iceland.

There were all those stats doing the rounds of how poor his free-kick taking has been at major tournaments.

It goes with the territory of being him. There’s a healthy amount of people always waiting to criticise.

Portugal v Wales - UEFA Euro 2016 - Semi-Final - Stade de Lyon Source: PA WIRE

Does he care? Not one bit.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks and the narrative has completely changed.

It was Ronaldo who assured the team a place in the knockout stages (those vital goals against Hungary) and in today’s decider- his magnificent header against Wales begrudgingly applauded though certainly not given the respect it deserved.

He’s already equalled Michel Platini’s European Championship goalscoring record and with Fernando Santos offering up a different version of Portugal than we’ve seen in the past, Ronaldo is the key in a wider collective.

With Nani playing up alongside him, he’s never isolated and has been able to concentrate on being a penalty-area poacher at this tournament and hasn’t really been taking on players from deep and attacking the box.

Poland v Portugal - UEFA Euro 2016 - Quarter Final - Stade Velodrome Source: Associated Press

He’s scored three of Portugal’s eight goals –  a contribution of 38%. For what it’s worth, Griezmann has scored 46% of France’s goals at this tournament.

With the final in Paris, he’ll relish the bad guy role.

The romantic story is for France to win in front of their own crowd but Ronaldo has his own story to write.

While Portugal have always been the bridesmaids, he’s not used to being second best.

The side have not been much of anything at Euro 2016. Though they’ve put a focus on shape and positional discipline, they’re still not that secure at the back. And despite having an array of attacking talent, they’ve not really set the tournament alight either.

Yet, they’re still there and with Ronaldo, they’ll always have a chance.

What kind of game can we expect?

Portugal have not gambled much at this tournament and have seemed perfectly okay with absorbing pressure, frustrating key personnel on the other team (e.g. Luka Modric during the round of 16 tie with Croatia) and hoping Ronaldo, Nani or Renato Sanches can offer up some magic.

France v Albania - UEFA Euro 2016 - Group A - Stade Velodrome Source: Thanassis Stavrakis

But there’s little difference between the sides when you crunch the numbers.

France have had 54% of the ball, Portugal 53%.

France’s pass success rate is 85%. Portugal’s is 84%.

France hit 18 shots per game. Portugal 19. Both average six on target.

Defensively, they both concede 10 shots per game to the opposition.

As cliched as it is to say, perhaps it may come down to set-piece situations.

France have scored four of their 13 goals from corners or free-kicks while Griezmann scored a penalty against Germany too. They’ll be buoyed by their success against Iceland – a team that had defended such situations very well up to that point.

25% of Portugal’s goals have come from set-pieces and don’t be surprised to see both teams make quality deliveries a huge priority this evening.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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