Pepe remains on the sidelines but Portugal 'believe' at Euros

AFP , Friday 8 Jul 2016

Pepe

Portugal's veteran defender Pepe remained on the sidelines Friday as his team prepared to face the daunting challenge of taking on France on home territory in Sunday's Euro 2016 final.

The 33-year-old Real Madrid star, who has played a key role in Portugal's advance to the final, stretched and did warm-up exercises away from the main training group during a 15-minute period when Portugal allowed media access.

Pepe missed the semi-final win over Wales on injury because of a leg muscle problem that has been troubling him for a while. Bruno Alves took his place in the team.

Portugal must now take on a French side that has been swept up in a wave of national football fervour after their 2-0 win over Germany in Thursday's semi-final.

Midfielder Joao Mario said that Portugal's 11 million population were also backing Cristiano Ronaldo's side.

"Probabilities don't win matches," said the Sporting Lisbon player when asked about French polls backing the home side.

"They can believe that but 100 percent of the Portuguese people believe in a Portugal win," he told a press conference.

The 23-year acknowledged that playing France at the Stade de France would be "special".

"Twelve years ago we were playing in Portugal and there was an incredible atmosphere across the country," he said.

Portugal lost the Euro 2004 final in Lisbon to Greece in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.

"I hope this time we will be the winners," said Joao Mario.

"We believe in ourselves, we have always believed. The coach has given us this confidence, this spirit.

"There are always critics, even in Portugal but we believe and we will try to show that in the final."

Before beating Wales in the semi-final, Portugal had not won any of their games in 90 minutes of regulation time.

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