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France and Portugal battle for Euro 2016 glory
The Cinematic Orchestra played on Saturday night at the Philharmonia concert hall in La Villette in northern Paris. After 90 minutes of ambient, down tempo jazz, the group left the stage to the roaring acclaim of the audience.
Sucked back by the adulation, bandleader Jason Swinscoe and his fellow musicians launched into Ode to the Big Sea – a rich, driving tune with swirling flourishes.
On Sunday night a few kilometres further north in St Denis at the Stade de France, the Portuguese a renowned sea-faring nation – will be hoping the final of Euro 2016 will also become an ode to the big C - Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portugal skipper has won the world footballer of the year prize three times and is the record goal scorer for his country. He’s also appeared more times for the national team than any other player.
The 31-year-old Real Madrid star has the role of inspiring his men on the field during the showdown against a France side buoyed by their semi-final victory over Germany.
It was the first time the French had beaten the Germans in a tournament. But France coach Didier Deschamps has warned against heightened expectations. "It's an exceptional moment, a privilege, a unique chance because there is a title at the end," said Deschamps.
"What you need to do is approach the final as relaxed as possible while being at the same time totally focused on the match. On the bench, there is a frustration in not taking part. I don't feel any pressure, no stress, just adrenaline and that's positive."
Portugal have been criticised for playing dour football. Ronaldo has scored three times in the six matches preceding the final. Barring a goal spree in the final he is unlikely to finish the tournament with the golden boot.
France’s Antoine Griezmann is in pole position for that bauble having netted six times as the hosts have surged to the final. But the French are likely to find a stubborn, tactically disciplined Portugal side in front of them.
Wales boss Chris Coleman paid tribute to their solidity following the semi-final defeat at the Stade de Lyon. “Portugal have got quality, we all know that,” said the former Wales international. “But they work as a team. It’s the best team spirit and togetherness that wins tournaments and you must have a bit of talent to get to a final.
“What I see in Portugal is that they are resilient and hard to play against and if you’ve got Ronaldo playing as a striker, he’s always going to make a chance or score a goal.”
Portugal coach Fernando Santos laid down his marker on the eve of the final. "Let the pundits and analysts carry on saying that Portugal won without deserving it," he said.
"I will be very happy if they say that again after the final. I will go home very happy."
Ronaldo, more than any of his team mates, will be eager to underline his manager’s sentiments as Portugal try to beat France for the first time in a tournament. In 2004, as a 19-year-old, he was a rising talent in a sumptuously gifted Portugal team that was outscrapped in the final in Lisbon by a rugged Greece side.
Ronaldo wept in the wake of the defeat. Twelve years later, after scoring the first goal in the 2-0 win over Wales, he said he wants to be crying with joy after the final.
The French will be out to wreck his dreams.