Wales out to inflict more semifinal woe on Portugal

Wales out to inflict more semifinal woe on Portugal

July 06, 2016

LYON — It will be virgin territory for Wales when it faces Portugal in the Euro 2016 semifinals yet its opponent could be forgiven a sense of deja vu as it steps on to the pitch in Lyon Wednesday.
This will be Portugal's fourth semifinal in the last five editions of the competition stretching back to 2000, but for all its success in reaching the latter stages of the tournament, there has been little glory along the way.

Only once has it overcome the last-four hurdle and then it was beaten in the final by Greece as host at Euro 2004.

If you include its defeat in the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup and a loss at the Euros in 1984, it is becoming all too familiar with the pitfalls of this stage of major tournaments.

Portugal's conquerors in its recent last-four clashes have included football powerhouses France, at Euro 2000 and the World Cup in 2006, and Spain at Euro 2012.

Should it lose to Wales, playing its first major tournament in 58 years and its first ever semifinal, it would be a devastating blow.

Yet Wales is arguably the form team coming into the match.

Chris Coleman's side has reveled in its underdog status to win its group, which also included England, Russia and Slovakia, ease out British rival Northern Ireland in the last 16 and sweep past heavy favorite Belgium in the quarters.

Portugal is 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.

Things are yet to click for Portugal, and by extension for captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who has at times looked exasperated by his teammates' attacking shortcomings.

Yet Portugal is 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 marshaling an increasingly assured defense, it will be tough to break down.

Especially for a Wales side deprived of one of its most talented creative influences in midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who will be suspended after picking up a booking in the win over Belgium.

While Gareth Bale has been Wales's attacking talisman, scoring three times to lift it out of its group, Ramsey has been arguably its most influential player, scoring one and producing four assists in the run to the last four.

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 semifinal, and his Real Madrid teammate Bale.

Perhaps ominously for Wales, Ronaldo has netted twice in each of his last two games in Lyon for club and country. — Reuters

July 06, 2016