PREVIEW: Portugal v France – key players, managers’ predictions, and how to watch EURO2024 quarterfinal

Hamburg will play host to a blockbuster clash tonight when joint tournament favourites France and 2016 champions Portugal face off for a place in the semi-finals.

The fixture is a repeat of the European Championship final in which Portugal triumphed eight years ago, lifting the trophy in front of Didier Deschamps’ side in their own backyard at the Stade de France, and promises to be a tight one. A meeting like this is worthy of semi-final billing at least, but only one of them can progress to the top four where they will meet either Spain or hosts Germany.

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Neither have really hit their full stride at EURO2024 so far, despite their status among the favourites going into the tournament. France are the highest ranked European team in the world (second only to Argentina overall), finalists in three of their last four major tournaments, and boast a frankly frightening lineup on paper. Kylian Mbappé leads an attack including experienced legends like Antoine Griezmann, while the defence is made up of the likes of N’Golo Kanté, Mike Maignan between the sticks, and Arsenal’s William Saliba. While that back line has lived up to expectations, conceding only a penalty by Robert Lewandowski so far, the attack has perhaps not been the fireworks show you’d expect. Les Bleus haven’t scored from open play in any of their four games, instead getting by through two own goals and a penalty – it’s been enough for them to progress, but fans expect more from this team than scraping by in this fashion. They didn’t impress in their opener against Austria, where Maximilian Wöber’s own goal handed them three points, nor in draws with the Netherlands and Poland. Their round of 16 victory of Belgium was equally quiet, with no score until Jan Vertonghen’s 85th-minute own goal spared them (and a pretty bored audience) from extra time. The France we expected to see at this tournament would have been favourites against Portugal – but the France who’ve shown up so far might be a different story.

It hasn’t been plain sailing for Portugal either. Though it was business as usual in their 3-0 victory over fellow quarterfinalists Türkiye, it was sandwiched between two more difficult performances. They squeaked past Czechia 2-1 in their opener courtesy of a stoppage time winner, and most shockingly of all lost 2-0 to tournament debutants Georgia in their last group match. Even though they topped their group, Roberto Martínez’s side were under attack and needed to put things right in the round of 16 against Slovenia. That didn’t go to plan either, with Matjaž Kek’s side holding out until right to the death and eventually losing on penalties.

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And the penalty that will be remembered from that night isn’t any of the three Portugal scored in the shootout, or the three Slovenian spot kicks Diogo Costa saved – it’s Cristiano Ronaldo’s in extra time. The image of Portugal’s talismanic captain sobbing after having his effort saved by Jan Oblak was a pretty stark one and even though he scored in the shootout, it hasn’t exactly got fans’ hopes up for tonight. Questions remain about whether, in what could be his last major tournament, Ronaldo’s role as freekick and penalty taker should be revisited for the good of the team.

What is the latest team news?

Martínez was quick to reassure reporters yesterday that his squad have recuperated after their gruelling 120 minutes against Slovenia. He’ll have everyone at his disposal. Didier Deschamps is also unburdened by injuries, but Adrien Rabiot is suspended and Kingsley Coman is something of a doubt as he left camp this week for the birth of his child.

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Eduardo Camavinga is among the candidates to come in in Rabiot’s place, and Ousmane Dembélé could also feature. Other than that, both teams seem likely to stick to their guns. Portugal’s selection in particular has been the subject of much discussion, with questions over whether the likes of Ronaldo have kept their spot on merit or reputation. It will be up to him to prove doubters wrong later.

Who are the key players?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappé will always be the headline names in any match they play; however, both camps were quick to move away from the narrative of it being a face-off between the two captains.

Bernardo Silva said in his press conference on Thursday: “(Tomorrow) is not about Kylian and Cristiano, it’s about Portugal and France. They’re definitely two unbelievable players at different stages of their careers – Cristiano is one of the best players that ever played the game, Kylian is still going through the begging or middle of his career, but the most important thing is that it’s not about them, it’s about Portugal and France.

So who else could make the difference? France’s standout performers so far have been defensive ones, with Kanté justifying his selection with excellent performances so far and Saliba also holding firm at the back. If they can keep up their defensive record, Mbappé and his attacking colleagues would only need one chance or one bit of luck to book their semi-final spot. This could be a very different game to the attacking showcases we’ve become used to between Portugal and France; it might be a matter of grinding out a win rather than out-scoring. If so, Diogo Costa replicating his form in Monday’s penalty shootout would be a great help to Portugal.

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What remains to be seen is whether either side’s attackers can flourish in a way they haven’t so far this tournament. Two players of Ronaldo and Mbappé’s quality should only need one chance to change the game, and while it would be foolish to reduce the fixture to a ‘mano-a-mano’ between them (as Roberto Martínez called it), it would be equally foolish to think neither of them could be the one to score the winner.

What did the managers say?

Roberto Martínez was as quick as Bernardo Silva to move the focus away from the ‘battle of the captains’.

“France is not just Mbappé. There’s a lot of players that can play in space and we need to limit that, that’s a very strong suit in their game. They know how to open space and then counter very fast – Kylian, Dembélé, Thuram, a lot of players can use that space. We need to have a performance. We need to control the game, we need to avoid their quick counters, and we need to defend in our box. But there’s no specific plan for a specific player because they’re chock-full of amazing players.”

In the French dugout, Didier Deschamps highlighted that his side will need to improve in front of goal tomorrow: “We have a defensive solidity which is crucial in these competitions. We’ve also controlled games better than we have before and better than our opponents. But what’s also interesting is the number of chances we can create, and we’ve had difficulty being effective in front of goal. It’s been enough until now, but the level of competition is rising.

“Historically, scorelines have been tight between us, but at this stage of a competition it’s rare to have one-sided games. It’s going to be a great quarter-final.”

How can I watch the quarterfinal?

Portugal will take on France at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg at 20:00 UK time on Friday 5th July (21:00 CEST), with game live on BBC One in the UK.

We’ll also be covering both of Friday’s quarterfinals in detail here on FromTheSpot, including on our live blog.