Five years after doing battle on the biggest continental stage of them all, reigning European champions Portugal renew hostilities with 2016 runners-up France for their final game of Euro 2020 Group F on Wednesday.
Les Bleus remain at the top of the rankings despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Hungary on matchday two, while Portugal currently find themselves outside of the top two after a thrilling 4-2 defeat to Germany.
Four days after a record-breaking performance saw him become the highest goalscorer in European Championship history, Cristiano Ronaldo was up to his usual tricks with another goal and assist against Germany, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had little to cheer come the final whistle on Saturday.
Two own goals in the space of four minutes from Ruben Dias and Raphael Guerreiro saw Portugal head into the half-time interval 2-1 down, and Germany would proceed to add a further two strikes through Kai Havertz and Robin Gosens before Diogo Jota restored some parity, but it was too little too late for Fernando Santos’s side to launch a storming comeback.
As was the case in 2016, the reigning European champions now find themselves fighting to make one of the top two spots before the final matchday in the group of death, and if results do not go their way, Santos will have to hold on the hope that his side can progress as one of the best third-placed outfits.
It is worth remembering that Portugal failed to win any of their group matches en route to Euro 2016 glory, and a 3-0 thrashing of Hungary – albeit with all three goals coming in the dying embers – was an indication of what the champions are capable of, but Santos’s side became the first Euros champions in history to concede four goals in one match last time out.
Portugal have never failed to make it out of the group stage during their previous seven appearances at the European Championships, but their fate remains in their own hands as they prepare to meet one of Ronaldo’s least favoured opponents, notwithstanding his short-lived Euro 2016 final outing.
Ronaldo has faced France six times without making the net ripple, but one man who did manage to breach Les Bleus’ defence was Hungary’s Attila Fiola, who raced free and poked home at the near post to send the Puskas Arena crowd into delirium.
Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann were all guilty of some wasteful finishing on the day, but the latter would rescue a point for Les Bleus with a 66th-minute equalizer, although that 1-1 draw felt much more like a win for Hungary and their stadium full of jubilant supporters.
Failure to keep their winning run going against a team that was widely expected to be the group’s whipping boys was a shock to say the least, but with four points gleaned from two matches, France remain at the top of Group F and will progress in first place with victory on Wednesday.
Didier Deschamps was surprisingly upbeat after matchday two as he paid tribute to Hungary for their “wonderful” performance on the day, but one cannot expect the World Cup-winning manager to act so graciously if his side fall short against Portugal, although Les Bleus are guaranteed to finish at least third in the group.
Portugal and France are locking horns five years after Eder’s effort propelled Santos’s side to Euro 2016 glory in the final, but Les Bleus gained a measure of revenge with a 1-0 Nations League win over the holders in November 2020, during which N’Golo Kante scored the winner.
Portugal European Championship form:
Portugal form (all competitions):
France European Championship form:
France form (all competitions):