France and Portugal make rival claims for Euro 2016 ‘history’

Paris (AFP) – France want to write football “history” by winning the Euro 2016 final against Portugal on Sunday to bury team scandals and help the country recover from the Paris attacks, captain Hugo Lloris said.

Portugal’s coach Fernando Santos insisted however that his side were also determined “to write a new chapter in our history” by winning a first major title.

The clash at the Stade de France between the hosts and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal has unleashed national fervour in both countries. 

French national television carried live images Saturday of the team arriving at the Paris hotel where they will spend the night. Hundreds of fans waited outside.

The team are suddenly national heroes again after several years of scandal and disappointment.

Lloris told of the enormous effort made to redeem the team’s name after a player revolt at the 2010 World Cup badly tainted the image of the millionaire stars. 

“We have come through a crisis in French football,” the Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper told a press conference.

“We have climbed back up the slope, we have done it step by step.

“But building a great team takes a lot of time. With the Germans and the Spanish, success was not created overnight. You cannot buy experience.

“Tomorrow we have the chance to go into French football history, it is a unique time in a player’s career,” said Lloris.

France won the World Cup on home territory in 1998, when coach Didier Deschamps captained the side. Deschamps was called upon to recreate the side in 2012 after the national team hit rock bottom with a player strike at the 2010 World Cup.

– Back from a ‘low’ –

The suspension of star striker Karim Benzema this year over his link to an attempted sextape blackmail added to the troubles.

Defender Bacary Sagna said the 2010 revolt over a dispute between striker Nicolas Anelka and then-coach Raymond Domenech “was clearly a mistake” that had scarred the national side.

“We took French football to an all-time low, we showed a very bad image. It has taken a lot of effort, a lot of work to improve our reputation. Six years on, we are getting closer,” said Sagna.

Lloris told how France’s run to the final had given the country “an escape” after the trauma of the November 13 attacks, which included suicide bombers trying to get into the national stadium as France played Germany.

“Of course we’ve had some very difficult times this year,” he said. “The French people really needed to escape via this competition, and sport has this strength: to unite people.”

France, with tournament leading scorer Antoine Griezmann, start the game as favourites.

They have never lost to Portugal in the finals of a major tournament. Portugal are also still feeling the pain of having lost the 2004 Euro final at home to underdogs Greece.

Santos has named France as one of the favourites but the manager said Saturday “I think that Portugal will win the final.”

“Tomorrow I think we are going to write a new chapter in our history.”

Veteran defender Pepe, who played a key role in Portugal’s advance to the final, trained normally on Saturday and said he was ready to play if chosen. He missed the semi-final win over Wales through injury.

“I feel great. I’m fully fit and can be chosen to play tomorrow,” he told a press conference.

Portugal are putting great faith in their captain and three time world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Santos has been hailed for the way he has created a united team — featuring veterans such as Pepe and Ricardo Quaresma and teenager Renato Sanches — to support Ronaldo.

Images of a 19-year-old Ronaldo in tears after the 2004 tournament have endured ever since. “We suffered a lot,” Santos admitted.

Portugal have been criticised, including by the French media, for their style of play. The team failed to win a match in 90 minutes of regulation play until the semi-final.

“I will be happy if they say our win tomorrow was not deserved,” Santos told a French questioner. “I will be very happy if they say that again tomorrow. I will go home very happy.”

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