After 24 teams and 50 matches, Europe’s biggest football showpiece has come down to two teams; the host France and Portugal to determine the ultimate champion.
The tournament has been a great feast of entertainment. Surprises, emotions and spectacular goals, we have seen it all. But I want to dwell on the unpredictability of the tournament as the single most entertaining aspect towards the finals.
Who could have predicted Portugal would be in the finals considering their wobbly start in the group stages in which they qualified as the best loser after failing to win a single match in their group. Even in the knock-out stage and quarter finals, they had not won a match in regulation time until the semi-final when they put two against Wales, another surprise package at the tournament.
Wales took everyone by surprise when they waltzed past a hapless Belgium in the quarter finals. Their win became famous in United Kingdom (UK) following England’s unceremonious exit at the hands of minnows Iceland. As expected, the English press turned against their own by exposing their lack of commitment while swimming in luxury and obscene salaries.
The most eye-catching of these was the Daily Mirror which said Wales victory against Belgium in the quarter final was made sweeter by the goal scorers (Sam Vokes-£7 000 a week, Ashley William-£45 000, and Robson Kanu- £10 000) whose combined salaries is a small fraction of what Rooney (£260 000 a week) and Raheem Sterling (£180 000 a week) earn in EPL.
And the influence of the African contingent at the Euro 16 cannot be overlooked, especially considering that both Portugal and France have an overload of players of African descent. Portugal has seven African players in Danilo Pereira and Eder (Guinea Bissau) while Eliseu, Joao Mario, Luis Nani and Renato Sanchez are from Cape Verde and William Carvalho is from Angola. Even captain Cristiano Ronaldo’s great grandmother is said to come from Cape Verde.
France has 11 player of Africa origin in the squad that will star on Sunday in the finals. Blaise Matuidi (Angola), Samuel Umtiti (Cameroon), Paul Pogba (Guinea), Ngolo Kante and Moussa Sissoko (Mali), Adil Rami (Morroco). From DRC, Steve Mandanda and Eliaquim Mangala while two are from Senegal in Patrice Evra, Bacary Sagna.
My immediate reaction is Africa should not feel left out. We are there at the Euro. In fact, in all the 24 teams that qualified at the Euro 2016, there were 43 player of African origin.
These players are in Europe because they have found their countries undesirable either in football terms, economic terms or just too much war. Africa is to blame.
Portugal will be a hard nut to crack on Sunday because in all their previous matches no one thought they would win. That has given them a certain air of invincibility.
But they will remember Euro 2000 when they were leading against France until in the second half when a handball by Abel Xavier gave France a life line through a penalty converted by Zinedine Zidane. France won the match. This a chance for revenge.
The hosts have a home ground advantage and having eliminated world champions, Germany, France are oozing with confidence. It is a renaissance they were all hoping for after a tumultuous 2010 World Cup campaign. n