Written by Rhys Paul
On Wednesday night in Lyon, Wales will line up against Portugal in the first Semi-Final of Euro 2016. It is a contest few would have predicted to take place at such a late stage and even fewer would have anticipated it once the tournament had begun given the size of Wales and the performances of Portugal. Nevertheless, it is already a game being billed as Ronaldo vs Bale, but in reality it will be a closely contested encounter with several other players more than capable of taking their country into the Euro 2016 Final.
credit Jon Candy
Do Wales Stand a Chance?
Portugal will be the favourites, but do their performances really justify them as such? I’d say no. They impressively subdued one of the best teams in the group stages in the form Croatia and against Poland they were the better – if unspectacular – team and deservedly progressed on penalties. However, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a team who have failed to win a single game in 90 minutes and one who are fortunate to still even be in the tournament thanks to the third-placed rule.
Slovakia, Russia and Belgium are three Wales performances that have been far better than anything Portugal have produced so far. Collective team spirit has been central to the country’s success and they will have to rely on it once again if they are to beat Portugal. Unlike Belgium, Portugal have shown that they can still grind out results and, whilst they haven’t won in 90 minutes, they haven’t lost either (unlike Wales who are the only team to have lost to England). However, a performance to the similar standard of the one against Belgium should be more than enough to see Chris Coleman’s side into the Final.
Wales will also be unique opposition to Portugal. This is a team who combine the team spirit of Iceland, a world-class individual similar to Poland and the never-say-die attitude Hungary demonstrated in the 3-3 draw with the Portuguese, so they will certainly be a handful for their opponents.
What impact will the losses of Ramsey and Davies have?
Both sides will be without key men with William Carvalho also suspended for Portugal. The loss of Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies through suspension is an issue Coleman will have to contend with. Davies has been one of Wales’ most consistent performers as well as one of their unsung heroes. James ‘Ginger Pele’ Collins will be expected to replace him so unless he has a nightmare of a game, his experience should ensure he is a reassuring and capable replacement for the Tottenham defender.
Ramsey’s absence will be an altogether different problem for Wales. Of the three players suspended, he will probably be the most missed. Ramsey’s high-intensity work rate and attacking threat have played a significant part in getting Wales into the Semi-Finals. If Wales lose, people will immediately point to the Arsenal man’s suspension as a factor in defeat. Along with Bale, he is one of Wales’ key men and it is difficult to see his replacement offering quite the same all-action approach, particularly if Renato Sanches continues to impress for their opponents. Andy King appears to be in line to be that replacement, but Jonathan Williams will probably be brought on earlier than usual if Wales are struggling to make something happen.
credit Ludovic Peron
Who will be key to Wales’ hopes?
As mentioned earlier, the whole team will be required if Wales are to progress. So far this tournament Portugal have shown they can struggle against strong, team units and Wales will be the latest in this respect. In Gareth Bale, the Dragons will always have a player with the ability to be the difference between a win and a draw, and such a player will always be important in a game of fine margins – much like the one the fixture with Portugal is shaping up to be. Ashley Williams will also be a big player and he will need to replicate his performance against Belgium if he is to help Wales hold on to a victory or even a clean sheet. The skipper has been average for the majority of the tournament, but as a captain he has done his job superbly.
I have a feeling the game itself could be rather dull from the neutral perspective. There might be a tendency for Wales to play it a little safer given the absence of Ramsey and Portugal have hardly set France alight with their performances. If this is a Wales side who play without fear or pressure once again, they will win. Coleman has a great opportunity to once again re-write the history books of Welsh football and they should fancy their chances against Portugal. Even so, it will be the country’s toughest game (they had already proven they were capable of beating Belgium) to date and the way Portugal’s tournament is going, it would not be surprising to seem them progress to the Final.
I’m going for a historic 2-1 win to Wales after extra-time. Whilst I have downplayed the match as a Bale vs. Ronaldo clash, I expect both to get on the score-sheet.
As for the winner? Ginger Pele, of course.
What are your predictions of the match? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Jon Candy