France's poor finishing resurfaces at Euro 2016 final
Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio jumps for a ball headed by France's Antoine Griezmann, right, during the Euro 2016 final soccer match between Portugal and France at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Sunday, July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — Wasteful finishing came back to haunt France in the European Championship final against Portugal on Sunday, with even tournament top scorer Antoine Griezmann missing his chances.
Ten years after losing on penalties to Italy in the World Cup final, France still has not learned to finish teams off when it really counts.
Despite being willed on by an entire country and a packed French crowd, France failed to come up with any original ideas against a stubborn Portugal defense rallied by unyielding defender Pepe.
Midway through the second half, Griezmann reached for Kingsley Coman's cross from the left and headed over from a few meters out. Deep into injury time, substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac hit the post with the goal at his mercy.
"We didn't have the luck of champions," said Griezmann.
Although Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio made several good saves, including one outstanding leaping save from Griezmann's looping header in the ninth minute and another athletic stop to palm away Moussa Sissoko's long-range drive late on, his other stops were more comfortable.
Much of this was due to France's lack of composure. As in the semifinal against Germany, France started brightly but could not sustain it, with passes too often going astray.
Coach Didier Deschamps said the team was physically "lacking freshness" and a lack of spontaneity invariably led to chances being snatched at.
Only when Coman came on nearing the hour mark did France play with urgency.
Within 20 minutes of entering the field, Coman had created four dangerous situations, including a run and cross in the 77th that Giroud somehow got in the way of when it appeared that Griezmann was getting it.
Deschamps will have felt a familiar feeling of frustration.
Although France finished as top scorers with 13 goals, it squandered chances throughout the group stage, needing an 89th-minute goal from Payet to beat Romania 2-1 in the opening game and with Griezmann breaking the deadlock against Albania in the 90th.
He scored freely after that, netting five goals in the knockout stage — including both in the 2-0 win against Germany in their semifinal — to help France reach its first final since the 2006 World Cup.
In the final, his goal touch deserted him.
"It's the second final I've lost in a month," said Griezmann, who lost the Champions League final against Real Madrid last month, missing a penalty in the second half of that game. "I'll come back stronger."
Watching from the other end, it was an exasperating night for goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
"I don't think we were cool and clinical enough," he said.
France's lack of composure seemed almost contagious.
In the 34th, Sissoko gathered the ball back to goal and neatly span into shooting range, but also went for power and Patricio read his shot easily.
Everything about France's shooting seemed hasty, as if they were relying on hope.
At the final whistle, center half Laurent Koscielny squatted on his knees, head down. But it was not the defense that let France down.
When France won Euro 2000, it needed an equalizing goal from Sylvain Wiltord with the last kick of injury time to force extra time against Italy. Striker David Trezeguet then scored the Golden Goal winner.
Sixteen years later, there was no such happy ending.
"We can't throw away all we've done," said Deschamps, who captained that side. "But we let a good chance slip."