The Euro 2016 semifinal stage is upon us, starting with Portugal and Wales facing off in Lyon, in a match that’s much more than just Gareth Bale vs Cristiano Ronaldo.
A little bit of history
- Wales are in this tournament for the first time, which means each match is their biggest match ever. Their previous international tournament was in the 1958 World Cup
- Portugal do well in the Euros. Out of the last five tournaments (since 2000), they’ve made the semifinal four times. They went all the way to the final in 2004, losing to Greece
Road to the semifinal
- Wales finished on top of their group, despite losing to England. They beat Slovakia (2-1) and Russia (3-0), followed by a 1-0 win against Northern Ireland in the round of 16, while highly impressing in their 3-1 quarterfinals win against Belgium
- Portugal, as everyone can recite, still haven’t won a match within the first 90 minutes. They needed a 117th minute goal from Ricardo Quaresma to beat Croatia in the round of 16, and after 1-1 through 120 minutes against Poland, they won in a penalty shootout
Down to business
Much has been made of how Gareth Bale is a gelling aspect in the Welsh national team, while the dependance on Ronaldo often hurts Portugal and stifles their ability to play free flowing football. And while Ronaldo has been disappointing in this tournament with his inability to convert in front of goal, it’s worth remembering that he scored twice against Hungary, pretty much willing Portugal into the knockout stage.
Wales have a problem: No Aaron Ramsey, no Ben Davies. This leaves Joe Allen rather alone in the middle of the pitch, which should make things easier for Renato Sanches and Joao Moutinho, if he actually starts. For Wales, the ability to leave Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor in one on one situations without exposing their defense too much is probably the best way to get their offense going, while Gareth Bale finds open space, or draws enough attention to himself in order to make life easier.
Up until now, both Ronaldo and Nani have been devoid of satisfying supply lines. A weakened Welsh midfield offers an opportunity to finally see some more direct and accurate passing going their way. If it’s going to be another match with predictable crosses and through balls into the box, Portugal will make it to six matches without winning (in 90 minutes), not that it has stopped them from getting this far.