Euro 2016 final: 5 Portugal players to watch
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates at the end of the Euro 2016 semifinal soccer match between Portugal and Wales, at the Grand Stade in Decines-Charpieu, near Lyon, France, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. Portugal won 2-0. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer
SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — Portugal is facing France in the European Championship final on Sunday. Here are five Portugal players to watch:
The most compelling character on the Stade de France stage.
Ronaldo had a difficult start to Euro 2016: He was uncomplimentary about crowd-favorite Iceland, missed a probable match-winning penalty against Austria, and was furious when Hungary took the lead for a third time in their 3-3 draw.
But he's still here, after raising his game and his team at key moments as Portugal steadily improved through the knockout rounds.
The way he leapt high in the air to head the opening goal against Wales in the semifinals suggested Ronaldo is energized again.
Aware of where he stands in the Ballon d'Or race, Ronaldo knows that victory on Sunday could bring him a fourth career award ahead of Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale and France's Antoine Griezmann.
The love-him-or-hate-him Real Madrid defender had an excellent Euro 2016 until a thigh muscle injury kept him out of the semifinal.
Pepe deserves a chance to play after being on his best behavior, and marshalling the defense through tightly-fought knockout games against Croatia and Poland.
It would also reunite Pepe with referee Mark Clattenburg after their memorable meeting at the Champions League final in May. Pepe's play-acting after minor clashes with two Atletico Madrid players prompted a disapproving, tongue-wagging gesture from Clattenburg and a repeated warning to "Look out."
At age 32, defender Fonte is reaching a late-blooming career peak.
When Ronaldo and Pepe played at the 2010 World Cup, Fonte was preparing for another season in the third tier of English football with Southampton.
Since then, Fonte was central to Southampton's rise to the Premier League's top half.
Fonte stepped on the international stage when Fernando Santos became Portugal coach in 2014. His first call-up came in Santos's first match — a 2-1 loss to France in a friendly at the Stade de France.
Fonte had to wait for his chance at Euro 2016, replacing veteran Ricardo Carvalho after the draw with Hungary in the last group game.
Guerreiro was born to Portuguese and French parents in the northeastern suburbs of Paris just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Stade de France.
The 22-year-old left-back has impressed at Euro 2016 after playing just once in Portugal's eight-match qualifying program. When he did not play here, Portugal trailed three times before salvaging a draw with Hungary.
Guerreiro has been lively going forward and provided the cross for Ronaldo's header against Wales.
This should be no surprise to Borussia Dortmund, which acted early in the tournament to sign Guerreiro from French club Lorient.
Between the tough defense and the star attackers, Portugal has relied on a trio of Sporting Lisbon midfielders to link the play.
Sporting captain Adrien Silva has been perhaps the standout alongside teammates William Carvalho and Joao Mario.
Like Guerreiro and Fonte, Adrien Silva is a relatively late arrival in Santos's plans.
Adrien Silva did not play in the group-stage games, and his neat passing has coincided with Portugal improving in each game since.