Belfast Telegraph

French media say we have already lost but this team can spring a surprise: Mario

Key goal: Joao Mario says Portugal believe they can grasp the prize
Key goal: Joao Mario says Portugal believe they can grasp the prize

By Mark Mann-Bryans

Host nation France may be the favourites to beat Portugal in tomorrow's Euro 2016 final but Joao Mario insists the underdogs can overcome past results and upset the odds.

Portugal beat Wales in their semi-final encounter on Wednesday night, the first time Fernando Santos' side have won a match inside 90 minutes throughout the tournament.

They will meet Les Bleus, who overcame Germany 2-0 a day later, at the Stade de France with both history and the odds stacked against them.

Portugal, who lost the 2004 final to Greece on home soil, are currently on a 10-match losing streak against France stretching back to 1975.

However, the Sporting midfielder Joao Mario - who has started all but one of Portugal's Euro 2016 fixtures - believes they can spring a surprise.

"France is playing at home but they didn't show their spectacular football," he said.

"France will get to us thinking about winning, we know we always lost to them but this will motivate us.

"The French media are sure of the win (for France). We have lost a final already but this time we can make it. Probability counts for nothing and all the Portuguese bet on us."

While they stuttered out of the group stages, finishing third having drawn all three matches, Portugal - led by the enigmatic Cristiano Ronaldo - have slowly improved.

Their defence now appears sound, even with Pepe missing the semi-final through injury, Nani is playing well in attack and the 18-year-old Renato Sanches has seized his opportunity with both hands.

But Joao Mario, who would not be drawn on speculation he is close to signing for Inter Milan, has always believed Portugal have had what it takes to win their first-ever major trophy.

"Since the beginning we said we could win the Euros," he said.

"We have grown. We are into the final - anyone can win. We will start confident and motivated. On Sunday we will be at our best. Everyone will think this is a unique chance, we want to win the first title for Portugal. We mix youth with experience - this is the perfect mix. The veterans help us. We are ready and the coach knows what he's doing. All that matters is what you contribute to the group.

"The key is believing, never stop believing, correcting mistakes, keeping strong and staying together even in the not so good moments, like in the group stage.

"We believe in our colleagues next to us - this is the spirit that brought us here."

Belfast Telegraph