It is hard to not bill it as a clash of mega stars but that is how it would be when Gareth Bales leads his Wales side against superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. On offer is a place in the finals of Euro 2016 and this semi-finals encounter will be played at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais on Wednesday, July 6.
To say that Portugal have managed to scrape through to the semi-finals against mounting odds is just stating the obvious. Even with Ronaldo in their ranks, Portugal were never counted as a title favorites and their performance in the group stages reiterated this. Stuttering in all three games, they qualified to the round of 16 only as one of the four best third-placed teams. They were expected to be knocked out by Croatia in the first knockout. Both sides played one of the most boring matches of the tournament and was saved only by a 117th minute goal – which was the first shot on goal in the entire match with Portugal managing to live another game. They then went to play an absolute dour match against Poland which went to penalties and eventually Portugal won another contest they were expected to lose. This has been pretty much true for most of their tournament but stranger things have happened to teams of lesser quality; moreover, the presence of Ronaldo is always a nitro boost for the Portuguese.
Wales are a complete contrast to their opponents – progressing serenely and enthralling their supporters in every match. Brushing aside England, Wales topped their group – of course with some quality help from the English themselves. They then went on to go past a gritty Northern Ireland in the first knock-out match in a display that wasn’t comforting but not alarming either. The best from Wales was reserved for the authoritative win over hot favorites Belgium in a match that was far more entertaining than any in the entire tournament. A 3-1 final score was a bit flattering but Wales were remarkable in stifling the creative Belgians and attacking with excellent efficiency. To the satisfaction of Chris Coleman, this was achieved with composed displays from the rest of the team, reducing the burden on Bale.
Portugal looks to have more star power but Wales have come this far with far more assured displays and a strong team ethic. Portugal have been written off in both their knockout matches but managed to rise above the odds. This clash promises to be more than Bale versus Ronaldo!
Portugal have lost just once in their last nine matches but have not won a single game in Euros so far in regular time.
Wales are in cracking form in France having won four of their five encounters so far.
Key players and team news
Defensive midfielder William Carvalho will serve his suspension for Portugal who may recall Danilo in his place. Nani will be under pressure from Ricardo Quaresma for his starting berth but Fernando Santos could stick with his experienced forward.
Wales have suspension worries with Ben Davies and the impressive Aaron Ramsey both suspended. James Collins will come in defence while Andy King could deputize for Ramsey. Hal Robson-Kanu is in red hot form and could start as the lone forward.
Portugal managed to draw all five of their games in Euro 2016 in regular time. Wales won four of their five matches in Euros but were stretched in all but one of those. This game could witness another defiant defensive display from the Portuguese. Backing a draw in regular time is a worthy punt.
Portugal have been really low scorers with just ten goals in nine of their last ten encounters – excluding the 7-0 romp over Estonia. They have managed more than one goal in just three of these matches. Wales have been a little better and just four matches have seen under 2.5 goals. Portugal may enjoy stifling the Welsh and in the circumstances backing under 2.5 goals looks a prudent bet.
Robson-Kanu has been the star turn for Wales – even grabbing the headlines from Bale. His goals have come at crucial times too which should put him in great confidence ahead of this encounter. Same can be said of the youngster Renato Sanches and his effect on Portugal. Back both Robson-Kanu and Sanches to find the net anytime in the match.
Draw in regular time at odds of 3.0 with William Hill.