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France vs. Portugal: Preview

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Fernando Santos will make his debut as manager of Portugal’s national team in a friendly against Euro 2016 hosts France on Saturday, a final tune-up match before the team’s qualifier against Denmark on Tuesday.

Portugal suffered a nightmare start to the campaign with a 1-0 home loss against Albania, leading to the sacking of Paulo Bento.

Santos will be tasked with rebuilding a squad that has largely underperformed in the past few years, and with plenty of talent at his disposal, immediate success will be expected.

Victory won’t come easy at the Stade de France, however. The hosts had a strong 2014 World Cup and have one of the more exciting young squads on the planet, and with no pressure to qualify for the next international tournament, les Bleus will play free of pressure and with plenty of attacking intent.

Unlike most of the top matches played over the weekend in Europe, Saturday’s match at the Stade de France is a friendly. For the French squad, it will be a chance to give some fringe players the opportunity to shine—the Portuguese will experiment with an eye on Denmark just days later.

As a result, several big names won’t be playing. Didier Deschamps has already confirmed Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris won’t start for Les Bleus, via French Football Weekly:

his opens the door for several youngsters to grasp their opportunity, with Manchester City’s Eliaquim Mangala in particular coming to mind.

The 23-year-old centre-back hasn’t had a perfect start to life in the Premier League, with a disastrous performance against Hull City fresh in the minds of fans, but as far as raw talent goes, he has the potential to be a long-term starter for Deschamps.

He’ll be tasked with stopping the most in-form forward in the world, as Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to feature for Portugal. The Real star has scored in eight consecutive matches, per WhoScored.com, and he’d love to add to his tally and help Santos’ tenure get off to the perfect start.

According to OptaJean, history suggests the hosts have the upper hand, however:

Portugal may field arguably the best player in the world in Ronaldo, but France have the better team in terms of talent. Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi should win the battle for possession in midfield, but the visitors don’t need the ball to be dangerous thanks to their superb athleticism.

France’s defensive injuries will be key, and coupled with new boss Santos urging his players to start things off on the right way, Portugal should be slight favourites coming into this match.

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