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France vs Portugal - Pepe fit and ready to claim place in Portugal's history books

Sunday, July 10, 2016 Source: PA

Pepe is fully-fit and ready for the biggest match of his career, with the divisive defender desperate to help Portugal emerge from the Euro 2016 final with their first ever trophy.

Their seventh major tournament semi-final brought with it progress for just the second time, 12 years on from the ignominy of falling to Greece at the end of a European Championship they hosted.

Portugal have the chance to reverse those roles at the Stade de France, with hosts and bookmakers' favourites France looking to avoid defeat to the Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portuguese.

It is a match Fernando Santos' side approach boosted by Pepe's return in defence, having overcome a thigh complaint that ruled him out of the semi-final victory against Wales.

"I feel great," he said on the eve of the final." I am fully-fit and can be chosen to play tomorrow.

"Yes (this is the most important match of my career) because I am representing my people, my country.

"We want to write our names down in history and we believe that we can play well.

"We want to follow the gaffer's orders and we want to bring great joy to all the Portuguese people.

"Tomorrow we will have 11 million people, 11 players, plus three who will come on later on, and everyone will want to write their name in the history books and the history of Portuguese football."

Pepe is hoping to replicate Greece's Euro 2004 triumph in terms of upsetting the hosts, although he believes comparing the situations is akin to doing so with "apples and oranges".

This, the defender says, is a "totally different kettle of fish" and Portugal coach Santos believes France have the wherewithal to cope with the pressure.

"There is some pressure, we have that experience from 2004," said the coach, who formed part of a commentary team for that match 12 years ago.

"The French players are playing at home, but they are very experienced, they play in the best leagues and in the best teams in the world.

"They are used to very intense games and some of them were just recently in the Champions League final.

"They are very experienced and Didier Deschamps is also a very experienced manager.

"I am sure Didier is taking care of that so all I think is of how my players will play. I want them to play their best in order to win."

Deschamps is looking to lead France to silverware once again, although the head coach knows what a tough ask lies in wait as they look to end a 16-year wait to become continental champions.

The manager was key in France's last success after skippering his country to Euro 2000, having done the same as they won the World Cup on home soil two years earlier, and he admitted his side need to neutralise Ronaldo in order to get something out of the game.

Buoyed by a match-winning display in the semi-final against Wales, the 31-year-old is relishing the chance to spearhead a first ever Portuguese major tournament win.

"If there is an anti-Ronaldo plan, no one has yet found the recipe," Deschamps said. "He's a top player, he's got great athletic attributes in the air.

"It's not just that he can get up high, but he can hang there as well. I think his abdominal muscles, his six pack is there for a reason.

"But there are two things that are very tough to combat in football: pace and the aerial threat.

"It would be great to neutralise him, of course, but we need to be wary and limit his influence. That will be important to do."

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