Euro 2024 awaits latest instalment in memorable Portugal v France showdowns

Hamburg 2024. Will it be added to the annuls of Portuguese football history and spoken about in the same exalted tones as a series of great matches of the past? A repeat of the Euro 1984 semi-final and the seesaw 3-2 victory for the French will keep the neutrals happy. The epic battle in Marseille is considered one of the greatest international matches ever played.

On the evidence of this tournament so far, it is likelier we will witness a tighter affair, perhaps similar to the Euro 2000 or World Cup 2006 semi-finals, both ending in agonising defeats for brilliant Portugal teams still yearning for a first taste of silverware.

Talking of close, nervy games, dare I say it, but a rerun of the 2016 European Championship final is certainly not out of the question...

PortuGOAL runs through the history of knockout matches that have pitted together Les Bleus and the Seleção. 

 

Euro 1984 semifinal, 23 June 1984, Marseille

France 3-2 Portugal (a.e.t.)

A Michel Platini-inspired France were huge favourites against a Portuguese side competing in their first Euro and only their second major tournament, almost two decades after debuting in the 1966 World Cup.

And sure enough, a direct free-kick smashed into the net by Jean-Francois Domergue midway through the first half put France into the lead. The tournament hosts remained on top and had several chances to extend their lead, but were stunned in the 74th minute when Rui Jordão headed in an equaliser from Portugal’s irrepressible Fernando Chalana. The “little magician” with a ginormous moustache had already stamped his mark on the competition with dazzling skills that would earn him a move to Bordeaux as one of Portugal’s first big-name football exports. And he wasn’t done yet.

Portugal held on for extra time and looked increasingly threatening, and the Chalana-Jordão combination struck again. The tall striker’s first-time shot from Chalana’s cross gave the Portuguese the lead and dreaming of a place in the final, as the clock ticked down towards the end of extra time. With five minutes remaining before the final whistle, Portugal were still ahead.

Alas, it wasn’t to be as France captain Platini stepped up in his country’s moment of need, providing an assist for Domergue to net his second (in nine caps for France these were the only two goals the defender scored for his country), before combining with Tigana to score the winner in the last minute of extra time to break Portuguese hearts. 

 

Euro 2000 semi-final, 28 June 2000, Brussels

France 2-1 Portugal (a.e.t. golden goal rule)

Nuno Gomes exploded at Euro 2000 which was jointly hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands, ending as second-top scorer in the tournament with 4 goals and earning himself a move to Fiorentina. And the then-Benfica striker got Portugal off to a terrific start at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels by spinning and rifling a left-footed shot from outside the box that flew past Fabien Barthez to give the Seleção an early lead.

In a game that featured a constellation of the biggest stars of world football at the time – Luís Figo, Rui Costa and Thierry Henry to name but three – arguably the biggest of them all, Zinedine Zidane, began bossing things in midfield and turning the tide of the match. Henry levelled the scores shortly after half time from an Anelka assist, but Portugal nearly won it late on, Barthez making a flying save to tip Abel Xavier’s header over the bar to take the game into extra time.

Xavier would play a key role in the final outcome. It seemed the teams would not be separated, but in the 117th minute disaster struck. Trezeguet’s shot from the narrowest of angles was deflected away by a sliding Xavier’s arm. The referee pointed to the spot. Zidane made no mistake and the match ended there and then owing to the “golden goal” rule. 

 

World Cup 2006 semi-final, 5 July 2006, Munich

France 1-0 Portugal

The two nations met in a semi-final of a major tournament for the third time in history at World Cup 2006 in Munich, Germany, with many of the same protagonists on the pitch as in the previous meeting in Belgium half a dozen years earlier.

The Seleção were at the peak of the Scolari era with world-class performers such as Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo gunning to go one step further having lost in the Euro 2004 final to Greece two years previously.

But history would repeat itself with Zinedine Zidane from the penalty spot ending Portugal’s hopes in a hard-fought match after Carvalho was adjudged to have fouled Henry on the edge of the box in the first half.

The Seleção had a late chance to force extra time, Figo’s header from close range going over the bar. High hopes of a maiden tournament triumph for Portugal had been sunk by their old nemesis yet again. 

 

Euro 2016 final, 10 July 2016, Paris

France 0-1 Portugal (a.e.t.)

“Pouco importa pouco importa, se jogámos bem ou mal, vamos é levar a taça, para o nosso Portugal!” is a chant that has gone down in Portuguese football folklore that can be roughly translated as “It doesn’t matter if we play well or badly, we’re taking the trophy home to our Portugal!”

The Seleção had made their way to the final despite only winning one game in 90 minutes (the semi-final against surprise package Wales), relying on extra time against Croatia and a penalty shootout win against Poland after three draws in the group phase.

A team missing the star quality of yesteryear (no Figo, no Costa, no Deco) was as reliant as ever on Cristiano Ronaldo and when Portugal’s captain hobbled off at the Stade de France early in the game after he was unable to shrug off the effects of a strong challenge from Payet, it appeared the slim hopes of the Seleção were trudging off the pitch with the Madeiran superstar.

The rest, as they say, is history, Rui Patrício’s fantastic saves, Pepe’s heroic performance, the Seleção gradually working their way into the game, and the most unlikely of heroes in striker Eder, who scored the only competitive goal in his Portugal career, which also happens to be the most important goal in the history of Portuguese football.

Portugal had finally laid the ghost of French domination in crunch games to rest. Was it the start of an inversion of the trend or was it a one-off? We will find out the answer in Hamburg tomorrow. 


Note: Portugal have played France three more times in competitive matches, all since 2016, drawing and losing in the Nations League in 2020 and drawing 2-2 in the group stage at Euro 2020 (in 2021).

Complete record in 7 competitive matches: 4 France victories, 2 draws, 1 Portugal victory

By Tom Kundert