Euro 2016 Semi-Finals: Portugal v Wales Preview

Our-preview for the Euro 2016 Semi-Final tie between Wales and Portugal

Our football scribe takes a look at Wednesday's Euro 2016 semi-final between Portugal and Wales.

What a truly bizarre semi-final we have in-store here. Sub-plots abound in a fixture that very few would have dared anticipate in their pre-tournament configurations.

I will not shy away from a degree of egocentrism by pointing out that the Welsh side were one of my pre-tournament dark horses. Chris Coleman’s side have seemingly found the perfect balance between fostering a team ethos and exalting the status of their star man: Gareth Bale. That seems to have been Portugal’s biggest problem thus far. Not only does Cristiano believe that he is Portugal’s only hope, the belief seems to have filtered through the entire collective consciousness of the side.

Yet to win a match in regular time, Portugal will be hoping that they finally find a cohesive performance when it matters most.

Portugal v Wales | Wednesday 6 July | Parc Olympique Lyonnais | 21:00

To Win (90 Mins)
Portugal 11/10 | Draw 2/1 | Wales 57/20
To Qualify
Portugal 5/10 | Wales 14/10

The decision to extend the tournament this time round has suited Portugal down to the bone. They emerged - barely- from a poor group that included Iceland and Hungary. And they have still been unable to break a side down and win a game in regular time. Fernando Santos must take some credit for shoring up his side’s defensive structure as the tournament has progressed.

In the wake of conceding three goals against Hungary, Portugal have conceded just one in their two games against Croatia and Poland. Fonte and Pepe have looked far more compact than the combination of Pepe and Carvalho. However, Pepe may miss out due to a thigh muscle issue picked up against Poland. If the Real Madrid man fails to prove his fitness, his spot in the starting eleven is likely to be taken by Ricardo Carvalho which would leave the Portuguese backline rather susceptible to Gareth Bale's pace on the counter.
The suspension of Willy Carvalho is a real setback for Portugal, especially considering the penetrative running that has come to characterize Gareth Bale. Danilo will likely step in alongside Adrien Silva in the heart of the midfield.

The absence of Aaron Ramsey for Wales will encourage Renato Sanchez to cut in more eagerly from the right. Santos will likely persist with Joao Mario on the left despite calls from some quarters for the more dynamic Quaresma to have a starting berth.

One area that they could have some success is down Wales’ left hand side. Ben Davies is suspended while I believe that Cedric has been Portugal’s stand-out player.

An interesting side battle will be to see if Ronaldo is able to gain aerial supremacy over Ashley Williams.

Ronaldo will no doubt play a critical role in what is being billed as a Bale-Ronaldo heavyweight battle.
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Wales’ incredible run in this competition has confounded many who initially doubted Coleman’s insistence on playing a back three with wing-backs.

Suspension to Ben Davies will likely see James Collins drafted into the side. A major miss for the side will be the absence of Aaron Ramsey. One felt that with Willy Carvalho missing, Ramsey may have been able to exploit some of that vacated space. Coleman will need to decide whether to utilise Sam Vokes or Andy King in that position. Vokes has been excellent in the tournament thus far while King is probably more ideally suited to that specific position. My guess is that he may opt for King and bring Vokes in should the game necessitate it.

Robson-Kanu may provide a real threat to Pepe and Fonte. His unusual movement bamboozled Belgium and could draw some characteristically agricultural fouls from the Portuguese defence.

I think that Garth Bale will be relishing his chance to play this Portuguese side. The midfield combo of Silva and likely Danilo will provide a tantalizing prospect for Bale’s insurgencies.

Carvalho will be greatly missed when it comes to marking the flying Welsh-man. I just have the feeling that Wales have developed a winning mentality and this bodes well for Coleman’s side.

Verdict: Wales 57/20 (90 Mins)
Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that Portugal have to eventually produce a coherent performance. But in all honesty, I don’t think that this side has underperformed. They are a fractured side that is beholden to the ego of one man. Ronaldo’s free-kicks have become an embarrassment - especially when you consider the likes of Ronaldo and Pepe can be a huge influence in the box. It just epitomizes this side. I believe Bale will shine and Wales’ superior team unity will help them through.

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