When The Dust Settles, Wales Can Reflect On Something Remarkable
It almost felt as though every instance where you wanted to criticise an aspect of this Welsh performance needed to be checked, with the reminder that this country were 117th in the FIFA World Rankings five years ago, and losing to Leyton Orient in a friendly 20 years ago, needing to be taken on board.
Shorn of two of their better players, this simply looked to be a bridge too far, with Portugal’s tournament-ready, battle-hardened approach proving too much for a squad by now running low on energy.
Portugal haven’t been much at this tournament but they have been organised and difficult to break down, and that looked to be the case right from the start here despite some encouraging runs into the box from Andy King.
This was the night that reality bit for the Welsh, but look how far they came.
Cristiano Ronaldo Wins The Battle Through Sheer Force Of Influence
And so it was Cristiano Ronaldo who won the Battle of the Galacticos, a contest which was billed as though both were in the same weight division despite the Portugal captain’s obvious advantages in the mint green shirts around him.
In the first half, Ronaldo’s influence on the battle seemed to centre around just complaining to anyone and everyone about Wales’s treatment of him, but he was always there, always wanting to be involved and always the focal point of the attack in a side which were growing more and more confident that those attacks would eventually lead to goals.
They were the deserving winners and he was a deserving scorer, with his almost physics-defying leap to open the scoring five minutes into the second half saying so much about the different ways that this most remarkable of footballers – a once in a generation footballer – goes about his business.
He’ll see Sunday’s final as his stage, and you can bet that he’ll be in the centre of things then, too.
Midfield Mixture Left Wales In A Muddle
Without the suspended Aaron Ramsey, Chris Coleman’s approach saw King fielded at the head of the midfield three with Joe Ledley and Joe Allen working hard behind him, but the truth is that none of the trio had an impressive game as they sought to cover for their absent teammate.
Ledley – perhaps finally feeling the effects of that pre-tournament fractured leg – let the game pass him by too often, failing to impose himself in an area where the young superstar-to-be Renato Sanches roamed with abandon and menace.
Alongside him Allen, too, lacked much of the poise and precision which has been apparent over his month in France, with an early miscontrol and booking setting the tone for a disjointed display which was devoid of the much of the rhythm which makes him the player he can be.
King, the supposed replacement for Ramsey, was nothing of the sort.
Portugal Find Themselves In The Final, But Their Plan Will Have To Change
Whoever it will be that they face, Germany or France, the Portugal are going to find things will be hugely different in Sunday’s final in Paris.
A run to the final which has included matches against Iceland, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Poland and Wales has to be described as a kind one, but against one of the tournament’s big boys they’ll come under so much pressure and won’t have any time in midfield, something they have been used to throughout their time here.
Fernando Santos will have to come up with a plan to contain their opponents for the first time this summer.