Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo was the difference as Wales fell to the sword in the Euro 2016 semi-final at the Stade des Lumières on Wednesday evening. Scoring one and assisting the other, the Real Madrid attacker proved his worth on the grand stage to send the deserved winners to the final, 12 years on from their last in the European Championships.
The Dragons started tentatively, and in truth never managed to settle into the game to get a foothold. Portugal were typically hard to break through, while showcasing little attacking threat themselves for the large part. As a result, it wasn’t a big surprise to see the two sides going into the break goalless.
However, it was first-blood to Portugal not long into the second-half, and in just three minutes Wales had all but lost the encounter. Ronaldo leapt brilliantly to head home from a corner, before his shot was steered in by former Manchester United teammate Nani to double Portugal’s advantage.
Wales looked to their talisman in Gareth Bale for inspiration, but his long shots from distance never failed to breach Rui Patricio in the Portugal goal, nor were any of his balls into the box converted. The Real Madrid forward tried to make up for the loss to chief playmaker Aaron Ramsey by adopting a deeper role to drive with the ball into the final third, but it led to Bale being the first man in Wales’ attack rather than the last.
The 26-year-old wasn’t the only player who struggled, however. Hal Robson-Kanu, who was a hero of Wales’ semi-final win over Belgium, was substituted in the second-half. Joe Allen didn’t crown himself in glory either, spurning a number of passes in the midfield, while being caught in possession one too many times.
Wales looked nervous throughout the encounter with Portugal, and hardly tested the opposition goalkeeper in the 90 minutes at the Stade des Lumières. Portugal have been criticised for their defensive style, as well as having failed to win in normal time prior to the Wales clash. But their organisation led to Chris Coleman’s side failing to make a break through.
Portugal were without two key defensive players with centre-back Pepe injured and midfielder William Carvalho suspended, and they had changed their left-back for the semi-final. However, Wales didn’t take advantage of the changes to their opponent’s backline. While exceeding expectations in the tournament, manager Chris Coleman may have some regrets that his side didn’t put enough pressure on the makeshift Portugal defence.
Nevertheless, the Dragons will be full of pride of how they’ve performed in the 2016 European Championships, but it will be Portugal in the final to face France or Germany.