Portugal versus Wales: Going for broke?

It’s unlikely that the clash of the titans, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, will overshadow the game in any way, but both teams are quite reliant on these two superstars, Portugal more so. Wales has played more like a team, and players such as Aaron Ramsey and Hal Robson-Kanu have more than ably supported Bale.

Welsh players Danny Ward, Hal Robson-Kanu and Ben Davies in a discussion during training, ahead of their semifinal clash against Portugal. Regardless of what happens in the match, Wales has made its mark on the European and, indeed, the international stage.   -  REUTERS

The Portugal physiotherapist, Antonio Gaspar, helps Pepe (right) stretch out during training ahead of the semifinal encounter against Wales. Portugal is yet to win a game in 90 minutes.   -  AP

Portugal and Wales will go head to head in the first semifinal of the EURO 2016 tonight, and all the pre-game hype has been about a Cristiano Ronaldo versus Gareth Bale showdown.

I personally do not think that this clash of the titans will overshadow the game in any way, but both teams are quite reliant on these two superstars, Portugal more so. Wales has played more like a team, and players such as Aaron Ramsey and Hal Robson-Kanu have more than ably supported Bale.

 

Ronaldo has not taken the tournament by the scruff as Bale has, but has still scored two goals and had about five to six shots on goal every game, which is a decent return for any forward. He has adapted to the 4-4-2 formation that the coach, Fernando Santos, prefers, playing alongside Nani up front, and is doing more defensive work than he is used to. At Real Madrid, he is used to cutting in from the left wing and being fed by Luka Modric and Co., but here he has had to take more creative responsibility.

The Portuguese are yet to win a game in 90 minutes, and after the 3-3 draw with Hungary, they have tightened up the screws defensively and rightly so because a clean sheet will give you a much better chance of winning a knockout game. Portugal will miss the services of defensive midfielder William Carvalho through suspension, so I expect either Danilo or Joao Moutinho to take his place.

Ricardo Quaresma has been an outstanding impact player from the bench so far and I think he will continue to be used in the same capacity. He does less defensive work than Ronaldo or Nani, but if he starts and fails to deliver, there aren’t that many other useful options on the Portuguese bench to bring on.

 

In the Welsh camp, Aaron Ramsey’s suspension is a mighty blow. The Arsenal midfielder has had an outstanding tournament and has played with freedom and desire. He leaves a big hole to fill and although it is hard to predict who will get the nod, Leicester midfielder Andy King is the likeliest option, having come on as a substitute to play in that position earlier in the tournament.

Defender Ben Davies will be another huge miss. His partnership with James Chester and Ashley Williams in the three-man Wales defence has been the key to the team’s success in the tournament. These three have been rock solid, very much like Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini for Italy, and although they do not possess the same quality as the Italians, they have put their bodies on the line when required and defended stubbornly.

Regardless of what happens in the match tonight, Wales has made its mark on the European and, indeed, the international stage. The players have been living embodiments of the team’s motto of “Together Stronger”, right from their fighting spirit on the field to their celebrations of running towards the dugout. They have shown that the right combination of 11 players can beat any team on a given day.