All throughout Euro 2016, France have had to take the harder path. As the hosts of the tournament and a very talented team in their own right they had a huge target on their backs, and to make things worse they got off to a slow start in the group stage. Their path through the knockout rounds was even more difficult — but it’s prepared them to face the challenge of facing a Portugal side that no one has been able to beat.

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Hard road

It hasn’t always been the smoothest ride for France to get to the final. They had to win late against Albania and Romania and couldn’t find a way to beat Switzerland, playing well at times in those games but not looking like the powerhouse side they’re capable of being. France got through it though because they never looked away from what makes them a good team, and kept pushing on with their gameplan.

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Determination and quality

They had tough lessons to learn from those shaky first steps, but France learned them well — coming from behind to beat Ireland in the first knockout round and absolutely dominating a wildly impressive Iceland side. France proved that their determination and quality, not to mention their ability to use the emotional advantage of being on home soil, was enough to get them through to a semifinal match.

That match, against defending World Cup champions Germany, was the greatest test of all for France. They started brightly, but Germany quickly turned the match around and absolutely dominated France for the vast majority of the first half. But through all that, France never gave up. They put in as brave a defensive stand as they could manage against Germany’s relentless pressure, and every time they had an inch of breathing room, France looked to re-establish their gameplan, continuing to try to be proactive in their approach to the match at a time when most teams would be shutting up shop and just trying to hold on.

And then a stroke of luck struck, and France seized it with both hands and ran away with it.

A stroke of good fortune

When Germany gave up that penalty at the end of the first half, France definitely got lucky, there’s no question about that. But they’d positioned themselves to take full advantage of that luck, because when Germany came out of halftime looking shaken, France’s earlier efforts to keep establishing their gameplan allowed them to kick down the door and never let Germany back into the match.

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That second half performance was proof positive that France have what it takes to win Euro 2016. Even against a side as tough of Portugal, who have been putting a stranglehold on every match they’ve been in, France has what it takes to find a way through, to find a way to win. They’ve made all the adjustments, put in all the effort, and now they’re reaping the rewards. They have one last test to pass, one last challenge to conquer, and they’ll lift the European Championship title on home soil.

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It will be a hard test, maybe their hardest yet, but it’s not like anything else they’ve gone through has been easy.

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