Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to win his 121st cap, but much of the attention in Portugal’s friendly international with France on Friday could focus on a player who has been tasked with stepping into the Portuguese star’s footsteps as a teenage star at Manchester United. Anthony Martial was already celebrating his first call-up to the France squad this week when the 19-year-old was called to Manchester to complete a £36 million transfer from Monaco.
The fee, which according to some reports could even rise significantly higher, obliterated the world record for a teenager and the now-paltry £12.24 million United paid for Ronaldo in 2003. It is most extraordinary, though, because so many fans of his new club, and even his new captain, will never have seen him play.
Martial has started just 29 league games, but his promise has been enough to earn a place in Didier Deschamps' squad for Friday’s friendly at Lisbon’s Estádio José Alvalade. For France the match represents another important step in their preparations for hosting next year’s European Championships. While they don’t need to qualify for the event, France have been placed as an unofficial sixth team in Group I, alongside Portugal, in an attempt to provide them with a sense of competitive action in the buildup to Euro 2016.
On recent evidence, Deschamps still has plenty of work to do if France are to lift the trophy on home soil. France have lost three of their last four matches, at home to Brazil and Belgium and most recently against Albania. And Deschamps remains with a selection quandary in the center of his defense. Mamadou Sakho, who started against Albania in June, has been left out of the squad due to his lack of playing time this season with Liverpool, leaving Laurent Koscielny, Raphael Varane, Eliaquim Mangala, and Kurt Zouma to battle for the two spots.
Portugal’s concerns are more pressing, and they remain in a battle to secure their place in France next year. Things do, though, look significantly more positive than when coach Fernando Santos first took the job last September. The former Greece boss was appointed following a 1-0 defeat at home to Albania at the start of qualifying, and, after beginning his reign with a friendly defeat to France in Paris, he has led Portugal to four straight wins in qualifying. Portugal now sit top of their group, although just two points clear of Denmark and Albania, who they face on Monday.
Santos’ squad for both matches will be weakened by the absence through injury of Martial’s Monaco teammate Joao Moutinho. But Real Madrid defender Pepe is back available after missing the last qualifier through injury, while the experienced Miguel Veloso has been called up for the first time by Santos.
The team will, of course, be led by their record goalscorer. While Ronaldo hasn’t scored in two La Liga games for Real Madrid this season, he fired a hat-trick in his last outing for Portugal -- a 3-2 win in Armenia.
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Deportes, Fox Soccer Plus