Euro 2016 final preview: Portugal's new golden generation out to make history

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal during the Euro 2016 semi-final football match between Portugal and Wales.
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal during the Euro 2016 semi-final football match between Portugal and Wales.PHOTO: AFP

Beat France on Sunday (Monday morning, Singapore time), and Portugal will lift their first major tournament title - a feat that some members of their golden generation failed to achieve.

The likes of former World Player of the Year Luis Figo, Deco, Rui Costa, Nuno Gomes, and Pauleta had their chance to win the European Championship on home soil in 2004. But they were stunned by Greece 1-0 at the Estadio da Luz.

Two other players who suffered heartbreak on the Lisbon pitch were Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho. They are the only survivors of that squad at Euro 2016.

Ronaldo has since replaced Figo, a member of the Portugal squad that won the 1991 Fifa Under-20 World Cup, as their talisman and captain. The three-time Ballon d'Or winner leads the line with Nani, with the winger being pushed further forward.

Portugal have struggled to produce strikers since the retirements of Gomes and Pauleta. But Ronaldo, the country's all-time leading scorer with 61 goals, does have a supporting cast, even if Portugal have been deemed a one-man team for years.

 
 

"The situation has changed now, the pressure is not all on Cristiano," Nani told The Telegraph. "The young players have shown their quality. They can play, they are players who have great character, great personality and, of course, great talent. They are not scared."

Midfielder Renato Sanches, the youngest player to start for his country in a major tournament at 18 years old, put in a man-of-the-match display against Poland in the quarter-finals.

William Carvalho, 24, has lived up to the hype since being named player of the tournament at the European Under-21 Championship last year. Not only is the defensive midfielder tough in the tackle, he is able to start attacks from the back with his wide range of passing.

Left-back Raphael Guerreiro, 22, has provided an attacking outlet on the flank while midfielder Joao Mario, 23, has been quietly impressive with his playmaking abilities.

Portugal's veterans have also contributed to their deep run. Pepe, 33, a two-time La Liga and Champions League winner with Real Madrid, has been solid at centre-back. And Ricardo Quaresma, 32, has been an impact player off the bench, scoring the winner against Croatia in the round of 16 and providing a crucial assist in the 3-3 draw against Hungary in the group stage.

So while France are favourites, Portugal are happy to be overlooked. After all, they learnt a lesson 12 years ago: the unfancied team can prevail against the hosts in the final.

Road to the final

- Group stage:

Portugal 1-1 Iceland

Portugal 0-0 Austria

Portugal 3-3 Hungary

- Round of 16:

Portugal 1-0 Croatia (after extra time)

- Quarter-final:

Portugal 5-3 Poland on penalties (1-1 after extra time)

- Semi-final:

Portugal 2-0 Wales