Football

Michel Sablon: Pressure's on Portugal ahead of meeting with France

Our analyst gives his lowdown ahead of Group F's final fixtures

Euro 2020's Group of Death approaches its final stage tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and it is the defending European champions Portugal who are in the most precarious position.

By virtue of results in other groups, World Cup holders France have already booked a last-16 spot, even if they lose to the Portuguese, while Germany look comfortably placed to finish with six points after losing to Les Bleus in their first game.

So where does that leave Fernando Santos' men?

Germany should beat Hungary in Munich, which would then pile the pressure on France. Didier Deschamps' men would have to win their final Group F game in Budapest to avoid dropping to second spot.

 

The Selecao, meanwhile, have yet to shine. The scoreline did not tell the full story of their 3-0 win over Hungary, a match that looked headed for a draw until Raphael Guerreiro's deflected 84th-minute shot finally broke the deadlock.

Portugal opened the scoring much earlier in their second game against Germany, but their 15th-minute opener proved a false dawn as Joachim Loew's side scored four in the next 45 minutes before they eased off in the 4-2 win.

Portugal sneaked into the knockout stage without a group-stage win at Euro 2016. They finished third in their group then and might do so again.

Anything more than a single-goal defeat by France will push the Selecao into negative goal difference territory and leave their qualification chances dependent on how things pan out in the other groups.

And even if they do qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams, they will face the No. 1 team in the Fifa rankings, Belgium, or a resurgent Netherlands - both of which have a 100 per cent record in the group stage.

Like Germany did with their left wing-back revelation Robin Gosens, France will target Portugal right-back Nelson Semedo.

It doesn't matter if Santos drops him for Diogo Dalot, France will have Kylian Mbappe on the left and he can beat any defender in the world.

The key to trying to keep him quiet won't rest solely on whoever Portugal play at right-back. In fact, who plays on the right side of midfield will be more important.

Santos needs that midfielder to cut out the passes, space and running angles available to Mbappe.

That is why I think Santos will try and pack the midfield against France. He suggested as much after the Germany game, when he said he got his tactics wrong and as a result, "we were always short of an extra man in the midfield and were pushed back".

Deschamps also might be contemplating changes. If I were him, I would bring in Olivier Giroud for Karim Benzema, who has not been delivering.

It could be because of his role at Real Madrid since Cristiano Ronaldo left, but Benzema is too individualistic at the moment and France need a team player like Giroud to try and bring the best out of his teammates.

Germany, too, may be without a key attacker, with Thomas Mueller only doing light jogging in training due to a knee injury.

But I don't think it will make a difference against Hungary. Germany's wing-backs will again be their key attacking weapons.

Marco Rossi's side do not have the counter-attacking threat that Portugal posed so this will allow Germany to dominate and win the game.

I said before their opener that Germany were not among the eight best teams at the Euros, but I have to admit their excellent win against Portugal made me change my mind.

They seem to have found a nice balance with their 3-4-3 formation and it's now only a question of whether they or France end up topping Group F to set up a date with Switzerland or Ukraine.

  • United Arab Emirates technical director Michel Sablon formerly occupied the same role in Singapore from 2015-2018. He was part of Belgium's coaching staff at three World Cups, including 1986, when they finished fourth. The former Belgian FA technical director is credited with developing the blueprint that produced their current golden generation of footballers.

 

REMAINING FIXTURES

 

Tomorrow, 3am

  • Portugal v France (Budapest)
  • Germany v Hungary (Munich)
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