France seeks healing final victory vs underachiever Portugal
SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) France puts its formidable record in finals on the line when the European Championship hosts try to deny Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal a first major football title on Sunday.
French players have lifted the trophy in three of four finals over 32 years: Euro '84 and the 1998 World Cup on home soil, as well as Euro 2000.
A nation still scarred by last year's terror attacks will seek sporting salvation from its football heroes and a chance to party again in the streets of Paris, where security has been intense during the tournament.
French law enforcement authorities pledged ''extremely high'' security in Paris for Sunday's final, with thousands of police patrolling as hundreds of thousands of fans mass in the French capital.
Security forces have three key venues to protect: The Stade de France stadium hosting the final - outside of which three suicide bombers blew themselves up last year, the 92,000-capacity fan zone in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and the Champs-Elysees boulevard, which will likely be swamped with fans after the match.
Mathias Vicherat, the Paris Mayor's chief of staff, said some 1,900 police and other security officers would patrol the fan zone, while the city's police chief, Michel Cadot, said 3,400 officers would patrol the Champs-Elysees, some of them redeployed from the stadium and fan zone after the final kicks off.
Portugal's most famous player since Eusebio warned the French not to underestimate Portugal.
''They are, in my opinion, favorites because they are playing at home and that's a big advantage,'' Ronaldo said. ''The whole country is going to support them, but ... we're going to be difficult to beat.''
The Portuguese, however, are perennial also-rans on the big occasion, reaching only one final in their history 12 years ago and losing at home to unfancied Greece. Determined to foil French celebrations, Portugal defender Pepe hopes Sunday's Euro 2016 final will replicate Euro 2004 in Portugal's favor this time, with the hosts upset again by the outsiders.
''That would be amazing,'' coach Fernando Santos said. ''We want to bring great joy to the Portuguese people.''
The final at the Stade de France will be Portugal's 35th European Championship game, the most any team has played in the tournament without ever lifting the cup. Ronaldo, who has collected every major honor in club football, will not want his international career ending trophyless like compatriot Eusebio.
''It's something that I always dreamed of,'' said Ronaldo, whose side has won just once in 90 minutes at Euro 2016. ''It would be a huge achievement if I could win something with Portugal.''
For a generation of France players this is their first major final, particularly Antoine Griezmann, the star of his home tournament with six goals heading into the final - double Ronaldo's tally.
Griezmann was just a teenager starting out his professional career at Real Sociedad when French football experienced one of its lowest points at the 2010 World Cup. The nation was stunned when the squad in South Africa went on strike in training to protest against striker Nicolas Anelka being sent home for insulting then-coach Raymond Domenech.
It has taken six years for France to regain the adulation of its fan base.
''We left a negative image of French football around the world,'' defender Bacary Sagna said through a translator. ''We had to go right back to basics to get the public on our side again. We've done a great deal of work to get into a final six years later. We want to put a smile on the faces of the French people.''