Proven pedigree meets the darkest of dark horses tonight when Portugal take on Wales at the Stade de Lyon in Lyon with a place in Sunday’s UEFA Euro 2016 final at stake.
Both sides in tonight’s semi-final will fancy their chances of reaching the final. This is unchartered territory for Wales, who head for the first major semi-final in their history. Portugal, by contrast, boast far greater experience – although little of it is positive. This is the seventh time they have reached this stage at a World Cup or European Championship, but only once before have they advanced to the final – on home soil at Euro 2004.
Portugal have yet to win a game inside 90 minutes at Euro 2016 and have struggled to find attacking fluency. But their greater tournament nous has already seen them edge out Croatia and Poland, and the bookmakers make them favourites to once again play the role of party poopers tonight. In contrast, Wales’ impressive displays in France – especially the convincing win against Belgium – have delighted and surprised most neutrals. But the Welsh squad believe there is more to come and they’re hoping to follow the recent pattern that has produced shock European Championship winners every 12 years – Denmark (92), Greece (04).
It will also be the clash of the Galacticos as Wales star, the most expensive player in the world, Gareth Bale faces the Prince of Portugal Cristiano Ronaldo. No doubt, their tussle will form a fascinating subplot and the Real Madrid pair will have a major influence on the outcome of the game. The winner of this game will face the winner of France and Germany in the final at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
DATE, TIME AND COVERAGE
Wednesday 6 July, 21:00 CEST (00:30 IST) kick-off. Live on ITV 1/HD (Sony Six/HD and Sony ESPN/HD). Live match commentary on BBC Football.
Fernando Santos faces an anxious wait on Pepe after he picked up a thigh injury in training. Ricardo Carvalho is his likely replacement. Raphael Guerreiro has shaken off a knock and is set to return on the left, while Danilo will come in for William Carvalho (suspended) in a like-for-like switch in front of the back four.
For the first time in France, Chris Coleman will make enforced changes with influential duo Ben Davies and Aaron Ramsey both banned. James Collins is the probable understudy for Davies, while Andy King could cover for Ramsey and get the nod ahead of Jonathan Williams and David Edwards.
HEAD TO HEAD
Played – 3
Portugal Wins – 2
Draw – 0
Wales Wins – 1
HEAD TO HEAD FIXTURES
02-Jun-00 – Friendly – Portugal 3-0 Wales
12-May-51 – Friendly – Wales 2-1 Portugal
15-May-49 – Friendly – Portugal 3-2 Wales
Portugal – DWDDD
30-Jun – Euro 2016 – Poland 1-1 Portugal
25-Jun – Euro 2016 – Croatia 0-1 Portugal
22-Jun – Euro 2016 – Hungary 3-3 Portugal
18-Jun – Euro 2016 – Portugal 0-0 Austria
14-Jun – Euro 2016 – Portugal 1-1 Iceland
Wales – WWWLW
01-Jul – Euro 2016 – Wales 3-1 Belgium
25-Jun – Euro 2016 – Wales 1-0 Northern Ireland
20-Jun – Euro 2016 – Russia 0-3 Wales
16-Jun – Euro 2016 – England 2-1 Wales
11-Jun – Euro 2016 – Wales 2-1 Slovakia
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Ronaldo is Portugal’s captain, leader and talisman. Despite not having been at his brilliant best in France (yet), he is still in the running for the Golden Boot with two goals and two assists. Not bad going. He is a proven big-game player and will no doubt have a decisive say if Portugal are to reach the final. Wales cannot hope he merely has an off-night; even when not at his peak, Ronaldo draws such attention from opponents that his team-mates – most notably Nani at this tournament – are afforded more freedom.
Gareth Bale (Wales)
Bale really has led by example here, contributing three goals, but it’s his work ethic when Wales lose the ball that has really stood out. Passionate celebrations from the Real Madrid man accompany every goal and every win – because this is the stage on which he has always dreamed of representing his country. A modest, ego-free superstar, Bale is all about team Wales. He is the face of this special moment in Welsh football history. And like Ronaldo, if Wales are to reach the final, he will no doubt have decisive say in it.
Renato Sanches v Joe Allen
It’s fair to say many hadn’t seen a lot of Bayern Munich’s new teenage sensation prior to Euro 2016, but now it’s understandable why Carlo Ancelotti was so eager to bring Renato Sanches on board. At 18, the kid has plenty in his locker. He’s a slippery customer. Sliding from side to side, the ex-Benfica boy will demand the ball from his more experienced team-mates. Looking for give and go’s, and happy to chance his arm on dribble, Sanches is a powerful midfielder with the speed and skill to get defenders backpedalling. A similar player to Sanches is the ‘Welsh Xavi’ Joe Allen, who has been one of the unsung heroes in this Wales side. The Liverpool star is tactically disciplined who instils a lot of creativity and could be the perfect provider to the likes of Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu. The two players will cross paths on several occasions in the midfield and the player who makes the best use of the ball will most probably win the game for his country.
Portugal (4-1-3-2) – Rui Patricio; Cedric Soares, Pepe, Jose Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro; Danilo; Adrien Silva, Renato Sanches, Joao Mario; Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Wales (5-3-1-1) – Wayne Hennessey; Chris Gunter, James Chester, Ashley Williams, James Collins, Neil Taylor; Joe Allen, Joe Ledley, Andy King; Gareth Bale; Hal Robson-Kanu.
Name – Jonas Eriksson
Based – Sweden
Age – 42
Games – 2
Yellow Cards – 6
Red Cards – 0
Penalties – 0
Portugal 23/20, Draw 11/5, Wales 11/4
This one is hard to predict. Both teams are evenly matched. Wales have got a couple of players missing, especially Ramsey who has been one of the top performers in the tournament, but Portugal are also without William Carvalho, who has brought balance to their midfield, and if Pepe doesn’t play tonight then it’s a major loss. People will say that he act ups on the pitch but you can’t deny the fact that he is a very good defender and he will badly be missed if he doesn’t play. Portugal are the bookies favourite to win this one, but they haven’t won a game yet, not in 90 minutes, and I don’t see that changing tonight. Wales, on the other hand, have been outstanding and have exceeded all expectations. There is nothing to suggest why they can’t produce another top class performance, like they did against Belgium, tonight. It could be their night, their year.
Predicted Score – Portugal 1-2 Wales
This article is written by Shantanu Ambekar, you can follow him on Twitter at @ShantanuAmbekar. What are your thoughts? Let us know by dropping a comment via our comments box below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and like us on Facebook.