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

09 July 2016 06:53

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."

Santos was very expressive in the pre-match press conference, from laughing at the suggestion that this is not the final neutrals wanted to downplaying suggestions officiating could be a problem.

Mark Clattenburg is taking charge at the Stade de France, having in May officiated the final of the FA Cup and Champions League.

Pepe was part of the Real Madrid side that won the latter - a match in which the referee awarded a penalty against the defender, as well as being caught on camera looking entirely unimpressed by his theatrics.

"Tomorrow there will be three teams on the pitch - three teams who are privileged to be there," Pepe said.

"Two will be playing for a prize and the third team, the referees, will try to do their best.

"I think this referee is maybe among two or three (of the) best referees in the world and it was no accident that he was present at the final of the Champions League.

"The game tomorrow is recognition of his work and his quality as a professional referee.

"And I think - I hope - the linesmen, referees and everyone has an easy night and that they can work peacefully."

Source: PA