Santos faces France as Portugal prepare for crunch qualifiers
Portugal (3/1 to win) make the trip to Paris to play Euro 2016 hosts France, who, having automatically qualified, are involved in a series of friendlies with teams from Group I.
Whilst there are no points or qualification hopes at stake in this encounter, there will certainly be a significant amount of national pride. The Navigators have not faced their European rivals since 2006, when they were downed by a Zinedine Zidane penalty, and have not beaten the Gallic team since 1975.
Didier Deschamps (odds-on at 17/20 to guide Les Bleus to victory) will be aiming to make the most of his side’s toughest warm-up test in the build-up to the tournament, and hoping to provide Portugal coaching counterpart Fernando Santos with a baptism of fire.
Home team France have somewhat of an injury crisis, with defenders Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny and Mamadou Sakho all sidelined.
These problems, however, only reveal an enviable depth of talent. The absence of the aforementioned trio will provide the likes of Barcelona’s rearguard rock Jeremy Mathieu, Real Madrid starlet Raphael Varane and Manchester City duo Bacary Sagna and Eliaquim Mangala a chance to grab a starting spot.
With sensational stopper and skipper Hugo Lloris likely to be rested, Steve Mandanda, who is currently leading Ligue 1 with Marseille, could also step in to earn a cap and is 6/5 to help France keep a clean sheet.
Deschamps finds himself with an abundance of selection headaches, in fact, with midfield maestro’s Yohan Cabaye and Morgan Schneiderlin both hoping to play alongside, or instead of, likely first picks Paul Pogba (2/1 to net anytime after striking last time out) and Blaise Matuidi.
With Oliveir Giroud out and Karim Benzema a doubt, in-form Marseille duo Gignac and Dmitri Payet (5/1 and 6/1 to open scoring respectively) could be set to play parts at the Stade de France, competing with talented, established attackers Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena .
Meanwhile, the world will be waiting with eyes peeled to see who makes triumphant former Greece coach Santos’ first team sheet. The 60-year-old will have the perfect stage on which to make his debut, and has nothing to lose by experimenting ahead of Portugal’s important qualifier against Denmark.
Were the Navigators to lose that game, after slumping to a shock defeat against Albania, which ultimately led to Paulo Bento’s axe, their prospects of returning to France for Euro 2016 would be slim.
Santos, who steered Greece to a World Cup quarter-final with a defensive masterclass, should be able to shore up a leaky Navigators backline, with veteran Ricardo Carvalho’s return to the ranks already causing a stir.
The Lisbon-born boss will now also have arguably the most potent attacker in the world at his disposal, though, meaning his home nation will be expecting more of a show.
Portugal skipper and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo swooped to claim his 22nd La Liga hat-trick last time out for Los Blancos, and has been on target 17 times in all competitions for his club this term. The question now is whether he will be deployed further forward for his nation, at the tip of the Navigators’ attack. Either way, the flying forward is available at a great value 6/1 to fire home two or more against France.