Players to watch in the Euro Final

We’ve finally reached the final of the Euro 2016! A solid month of soccer has led us to a showdown between France, the host nation and popular favourite, and Portugal, which boasts the deadliest scorer in the tournament in Cristiano Ronaldo. The two sides will face off at Stade de France on Sunday at 3 p.m. EST, and while the early odds should be pretty solidly behind France, we’re in for what’s looking like a thrilling final. And it’s finals like these that sometimes have the potential to produce the most incredible performances from top players.

Euro2016Logo_1So let’s consider some of the top players to keep an eye on in the 2016 final. The conversation has to begin with Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo. All eyes will be on CR7 come Sunday, particularly after the Real Madrid star outperformed teammate Gareth Bale in the semi-final against Wales (during which Ronaldo scored the first of Portugal’s two goals). Ronaldo is the most threatening forward who will be on the field, and he has a chance to win his first major title with Portugal. This could be particularly meaningful given Lionel Messi’s shocking indication that he might retire from international soccer after failing to win the Copa America. Most give the edge to Messi as the world’s top player, but a triumph for Ronaldo so soon after this rough low point for Messi could reopen that debate.


If anyone can challenge Ronaldo as the deadliest scorer in the final, it’s France’s Antoine Griezmann. The 25-year-old Atlético Madrid forward leads Euro 2016 in scoring with six goals (in 165 fewer minutes than it took Ronaldo to score three), and he scored two in France’s semi-final triumph over Germany on Thursday. He’s the player of the tournament thus far, and another strong showing in the final will turn him into a national hero for the host nation.

Dimitri Payet is another French star to keep an eye on. Heading into the semi-final, some of the oddsmakers , and the attacking midfielder again came through with a strong effort for France. It was suggested that he’s arguably been the man of the tournament for the French (though Griezmann secured that honor during the semi-final), and he’ll be a vital piece in controlling tempo and keeping France’s attack alive against Portugal’s vaunted back line.

Nani is a player to watch for Portugal should Ronaldo not produce fireworks, because he’s clearly Portugal’s second-most-reliable attacker. The Portuguese have gotten this far more by denying goals than scoring them, but don’t overlook Nani’s potential to impact this match, even if all eyes are on Ronaldo. Sticking with the Portuguese, surprise defensive standout José Fonte could also play a key role. As they proved against Germany on Thursday, this French team can threaten on a consistent basis and in deadly fashion. While Germany controlled most of the first half, a penalty seemed to wake France up and Les Bleus were on the attack for much of the remainder of the match. Fonte has risen to a larger role than he likely anticipated heading into Euro 2016 and has stabilized the back admirably. Raphael Gerreiro may be Porgual’s most skilled defender, but Fonte could be more consequential.

And finally, while there are plenty of terrific players on each side to point to, it feels important to single out French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. After a strong match on Thursday, highlighted by a late diving save of a German header, Lloris will face a club that seems to thrive on forcing matches into extra time and penalties. It’s likely that with the attacking prowess on the field on Sunday, this final will be decided in regulation. But whether that’s the case or Portugal ends up forcing penalties, the talented Lloris will need to come up big for the French. It should be a fascinating final no matter which players secure the headlines, but these are the men to watch based on the action of late.

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