Euro 2024: Portugal vs. France preview - “Suffering’s part of football”

Portugal boss Roberto Martínez has admitted that “suffering is part of football” as he prepares for tonight’s Euro 2024 quarter-final versus France, having seen the Seleção squeeze past Slovenia on penalties.

Martínez and his men faced the habitual scrutiny as his side failed to score against Slovenia, despite being heavy favourites to progress comfortably past one of the surprise packages of the tournament.

Warnings ring now as Portugal go head-to-head against fellow candidates for the European Championship title, France, with the Spanish manager insisting he’s ready to ride the waves that the duel will produce.

Speaking ahead of the crunch tie versus their fellow Euro 2016 finalists, Martínez stated: “Suffering is part of life, football - everything. All we can do is promise that the players will give everything, we’re focused on the game.

“Football is a team sport. Tomorrow isn’t just about Cristiano Ronaldo, or Kylian Mbappé. They are players with great influence, but tomorrow is a game in which the entire team needs to put in a big performance.”

On the approach itself, the former Belgium and Everton boss insists Portugal will implement no special plan to deal with the threat coming from Mbappé, focusing on the opposition as a whole.

“It’s key that we control the counter-attacks,” Martínez says. “France isn’t just about Mbappé, there are other players that attack space well and we have to limit them. It’s a strong aspect of their game, they can defend well and in numbers, then open up space on the counter attack. As a team, we need a complete performance.”

The Portuguese style of play

The Seleção boss was also keen to bat away critics aimed at his brand of football, often accused of lacking any type of threat. On the criticism, Martínez exclaimed: “I don’t believe the Seleção doesn’t take risks, we’re among the teams that takes the most risks.

“We do want to do better but, for example, our game against Turkey was very good. That’s a team that’s now in the quarter-finals. I don’t agree that we don’t take risks and have no personality, there are stats to prove otherwise.

“I like to play good, beautiful football and score lots of goals. Perfection doesn’t exist, but we try our best.”

Manchester City star Bernardo Silva echoed the words of his international team manager, although he did admit he accepted criticism coming from onlookers regarding the national team’s performance.

“I don’t agree with people that say we haven’t played at a high level,” the playmaker stated. “Tomorrow, we could go home or sit as one of the four best nations in Europe.

“To be here, we must’ve done a good job. We’ve done a spectacular job. But I won’t complain [about criticism from supporters] because they are the reason why we earn so much money and can provide a great life to our friends and family.”

What the opposition says:

The French camp wasn’t short of praise directed towards Portugal, as Didier Deschamps, in charge of France for Portugal’s historic 1-0 Euro 2016 final win, was invited to compare the current crop with the champions of eight years ago.

“It was a strong team that knew what they needed to get done,” Deschamps attributed to Fernando Santos’ 2016 squad. “It was a tough and painful moment for us as we really wanted to be European champions.

“I don’t know if they’re stronger or weaker now - I’d say they’re equally as strong. They’re one of the tournament favourites with legitimate aspirations of winning. Only one of us can progress and we want it to be us.”

France star man Mbappé was full of praise for Portugal’s more experienced heads Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe too, whom he’s set to trade plenty of duels with on Friday night.

Speaking on veteran centre back Pepe, the new Real Madrid star said: “You have to respect everything he has done. He’s a legend for Real Madrid, FC Porto and Portugal. He’s here at the Euros, starting games and in a quarter-final - that’s incredible.

“There aren’t many like him and I don’t know many who could emulate him. It’s an honour to play against players of this calibre. I respect him for his longevity and for continuing to play at the highest level. I take my hat off to him,” Mbappé concluded.

On the special match-up against his idol, Ronaldo, the forward stated: “Everyone knows the admiration I’ve always held for Cristiano. I’ve spoken to him lots of times and we’re always in contact.

“He gives me plenty of advice and that’s an honour. He’ll always be a legend. His curriculum speaks for itself, he’s reinvented himself countless times. I just hope he’s not the one smiling tomorrow.”

Head-to-head

Of course, the last time Portugal played France at the Euros, we know what side the smiles fell towards. But unfortunately for Portugal, historically, where France is concerned, that hasn’t been a sustainable theme.

The Seleção will have to go back as far as 1975 for their second from last victory over France, with ‘Les Bleus’ boasting an impressive 19 victories in 28 encounters versus the Seleção das Quinas.

By comparison, Portugal holds just six wins to its name versus France. Lucky number seven, anyone?

Predicted XI: Diogo Costa - Nuno Mendes, Pepe, Rúben Dias - João Cancelo, Bruno Fernandes, Vitinha, Diogo Dalot - Rafael Leão, Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo

By Patrick Ribeiro