Ronaldo and Portugal eager for glory against bolter Wales
Gareth Bale and his teammates look to make the most of their opponents’ poor big-game record in Euro semi-final blockbuster
It will be virgin territory for Wales when they face Portugal in the Euro 2016 semi-finals yet their opponents could be forgiven a sense of déjà vu as they step on to the pitch in Lyon Thursday morning (Hong Kong time).
This will be Portugal’s fourth semi-final in the last five editions of the competition stretching back to 2000, but for all their success in reaching the latter stages of the tournament, there has been little glory along the way.
Only once have they overcome the last-four hurdle and then they were beaten in the final by Greece as hosts at Euro 2004.
If you include their defeat in the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup and a loss at the Euros in 1984, they are becoming all too familiar with the pitfalls of this stage of major tournaments.
Portugal’s conquerors in their recent last-four clashes have included football powerhouses France, at Euro 2000 and the World Cup in 2006, and Spain at Euro 2012.
Should they lose to Wales, playing their first major tournament in 58 years and their first ever semi-final, it would be a devastating blow.
Yet Wales are arguably the form team coming into the match.
Chris Coleman’s side have revelled in their underdog status to win their group, which also included England, Russia and Slovakia, ease out British rivals Northern Ireland in the last 16 and sweep past heavy favourites Belgium in the quarters.
Portugal are yet to win a match at the tournament inside 90 minutes, having drawn all three group games, beaten Croatia in extra time and squeezed past Poland on penalties.
Portugal reach Euro 2016 semi-finals after beating Poland on penalties - and they still haven’t won a game in normal time
Wales star Gareth Bale refused to be fooled by Portugal’s route to the semi-finals.
“We know what tournament they have had. We have watched all their games on TV. They are a dangerous team,” he said.
“They are ranked very highly and are not in the semi-final for no reason. Even if they haven’t won, they’ve got the results needed. We will do our homework as normal. Hopefully on the night we can put in another great performance and make more history.”
Things are yet to fully click for Portugal, and by extension for captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who has at times looked exasperated by his teammates’ attacking shortcomings.
Yet Portugal are unbeaten in 12 competitive internationals since Fernando Santos took over as coach at the start of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
With Ronaldo’s Real Madrid teammate Pepe marshalling an increasingly assured defence, they will be tough to break down.
Especially for a Wales side deprived of one of their most talented creative influences in midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who will miss through suspension after picking up a booking in the win over Belgium.
While Bale has been Wales’ attacking talisman, scoring three times to lift them out of their group, Ramsey has been arguably their most influential player, scoring once and producing four assists in the run to the last four.
Crystal Palace’s Jonny Williams is expected to replace Ramsey, while Ben Davies’ absence could provoke a reshuffle with Chris Gunter moving from right wing into the back three, making way for Fulham’s Jazz Richards to make his first start.
The match is likely to be billed as a contest between the two most expensive players in the world – Ronaldo, who will play a record third European Championship semi-final, and his Real Madrid teammate Bale.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse