How Tottenham Captain Hugo Lloris Can Win Euro 2016

Hugo LLoris during the UEFA EURO semi final match between Germany and France at Stade Velodrome on July 7, 2016 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Hugo LLoris during the UEFA EURO semi final match between Germany and France at Stade Velodrome on July 7, 2016 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

On Sunday evening, France will take on Portugal in the final match of Euro 2016 — and Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris might be one of the most decisive players on the pitch.

Though it might not exactly be the final match up anyone predicted, it’s one that in the end might pose the biggest threat to Lloris and France as a whole.

This Portugal team isn’t stellar, and it isn’t storybook. It possesses neither of Germany and Belgium’s awe-inspiring attacking combinations nor of Iceland and Wale’s scrappy do-or-die ethos. Rather, it’s a team of hard-working, well-organized players who happen to be led by one of the best players the world has ever seen.

That player, Cristiano Ronaldo, is a huge part of Portugal’s success this tournament. Perhaps he’s not been the prolific force that France’s Antoine Griezmann’s proven to be, but his presence in Portugal’s squad forces opposition to make adjustments that ultimately hamper their ability to win.

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Portugal got through the competition’s group stage with three draws, and the only win they have registered in 90 minutes came with Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Wales. This is a team that is content to see out games, but it’s not fair to say that they are a defense-first outfit.

They are fourth in both total shots per game (18.8) and total shots on target per game (5.7) per WhoScored. France is considered a top-heavy, attacking team, yet have actually registered less shots per game (17.7) and only marginally more shots on target per game (6).

It’s not difficult to guess where Portugal’s attack is coming from, in quantity if not in quality. Ronald leads all players at the tournament with 7.5 shots per game. Only 1.8 of those have been on target, a figure that might explain why he’s not scored more than three goals thus far. Still, oppositions can’t let Ronaldo test their keeper, and thus try to corral, stamp out or simply distract the Real Madrid.

The effect is that sides playing against Portugal can’t properly play the game they want to play. Two, three or even four players are in some way necessary to keeping Ronaldo in check, and thus any attempt at shape or offensive tactics is compromised before the first whistle is even blown.

France won’t be any different. Bacary Sagna, Mousa Sissoko and Laurent Koscielny will all in some way try to chase down Ronaldo on the right of France’s formation. Those three players jobs are all made somewhat easier by the presence of Hugo Lloris in goal, however.

Tottenham’s captain made a convincing case in Wednesday’s match against Germany that he’s among the best keepers in football. His acrobatic ability to stop shots from being goals isn’t anything new to the average Tottenham fan. He alone has been responsible for keeping Tottenham in games, and no few victories have come indirectly from his gloved hands.

He can do the same for France on Sunday. Ronaldo is going to get shots off — as will Nani. France can sit back and box those two players in, thus hurting their ability to push forward as a unit and get the ball to the feat of Griezmann. Or, they can let Lloris take some of the burden.

That’s not ideal, of course, and no one’s talking about leaving Lloris entirely exposed. But Sagna can run forward with a bit more confidence with Lloris behind him. Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi can stray from their defensive duties in midfield a bit easier. Sissoko can continue to impress attacking along France’s right.

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That is the kind of influence Lloris wields. His efforts at Tottenham are as much about his ability to come out of the box and play sweeper, but for France its his uncanny ability to block shots that will prove invaluable. Unlike perhaps every opponent Portugal has played thus far in Euro 2016, Les Bleus can play the game they want to play, confident in their keeper’s ability to nullify Ronaldo and company.