Misfiring forward lines need to spark into life for France, Portugal

France's Kylian Mbappe slides into a tackle against Belgium in their Euro 2024 Round of 16 match at Dusseldorf Arena on July 1, 2024
France's Kylian Mbappe slides into a tackle against Belgium in their Euro 2024 Round of 16 match at Dusseldorf Arena on July 1, 2024
Image: Piroschka Van De Wouw / Reuters

The forward lines of France and Portugal need to fire up again for their quarterfinal meeting at the European Championship on Friday, where every little advantage will likely be crucial in a tight contest.

The teams clash at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg in a third meeting in as many Euro tournaments, this time chasing a semifinal slot against either Germany or Spain in Munich next week.

France have not scored in open play in their last five internationals while Portugal have failed to find the net in their past two outings at Euro 2024, needing the tear-filled trauma of a penalty shoot-out to win a last-eight place.

There is no doubting the quality on both sides, with Kylian Mbappe captaining the French and Cristiano Ronaldo bringing record-breaking achievement to Portugal.

But Mbappe is battling with a broken nose in Germany and at the age of 39 Ronaldo’s powers are on the wane.

He had a penalty saved against Slovenia in extra time in the round of 16, prompting him to burst into tears of frustration.

Bravely he took another, successfully this time, in the subsequent shoot-out as Portugal edged their way through, thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Diogo Costa.

It is not as if he has not tried. Ronaldo has taken more shots than any other at Euro 2024 (20 to Mbappe’s 15) but has not scored in his last eight tournament matches.

Portugal did net five goals in winning their opening pair of Group F games, securing qualification for the next round, and then rested key players for their last group fixture — a shock loss to Georgia.

Mbappe has a tournament goal to his name, a penalty in his comeback against Poland after breaking his nose in their opening clash with Austria.

France’s other two goals at Euro 2024 have come courtesy of the opposition; own goals from Austria and then Belgium in Monday’s round of 16 clash in Düsseldorf.

France coach Didier Deschamps tried to fix the malaise with a three-man strike force against Belgium but the pickings were slim. Defence, ironically given the attacking talent at their disposal, has been France’s strong point in the last weeks.

Ronaldo and 41-year-old centre-back Pepe remain from the Portugal side who upset France in Paris in the Euro 2016 final, while the French had Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud in their line-up and Kingsley Coman and N’Golo Kante on the bench.

The two countries also met in the group phase at Euro 2020, drawing 2-2 in Budapest in a match in which three of the four goals came from the penalty spot.

The margins will likely be fine again and the outcome is possibly determined by a moment of genius. For that, Portugal are likely to keep Ronaldo in place while French eyes will be firmly fixed on Mbappe finally delivering. — Reuters



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