SUBSTANCE AND STYLE
Portugal still have not won a game inside 90 minutes this tournament but somehow they have made it to the semi-finals of the European Championships for the fourth time in the last five editions. Credit where credit is due however as they have been extremely resilient in their last three games. They came from behind three times in their final group game versus Hungary, held out against Croatia before a late extra time winner in the round of 16 and in last Thursday’s quarter final, where they found themselves behind to Poland after just 2 minutes, fought back to be the better team before a penalty shootout and if one team deserved to win the match it was them. Apart from his 2 goals against the Hungarians talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, has not really been firing this tournament and this has allowed other team members to step up to the fore. Pepe, who is worryingly for the Portuguese a doubt for the match, has been excellent through the tournament, marshalling the defence, especially now alongside Southampton defender Jose Fonte who has been first choice in the knockout matches. Renato Sanches has also stepped up, the 18 year old driving the midfield forward and scoring in the quarter final. And then there is 32 year old Ricardo Quaresma, a man whose international career has spanned 13 years, but only has just over 50 caps. He has been used mainly as a substitute in this competition but scored the winner in the round of 16 match and then coolly slotted home the crucial penalty in the quarter final. Portugal are showing they are more than a one man team and will be looking to make their second final in this competition.
Talking of one man teams, it would be very harsh to claim Wales are, but like Portugal they have a talisman, his name Gareth Bale. There is no doubt he virtually single handedly got them to the tournament but since they have been in France, yes the Real Madrid superstar has done things that no other player in the Welsh team can do (two outstanding free kicks for one) but his team mates have stepped up too and made Wales the fairytale story of Euro 2016. Their quarter final victory encompassed everything that they were about. They went a goal down, Belgium missed chances before and after their opener too, the team from the land of the dragons rallied, took control of the game and equalised before half time. In the early stages of the second half, the Belgians again dominated but missed chances and flattered to deceive before Wales went up the pitch and took the lead. What followed was a backs to the wall effort, huge chances missed by Belgium, thanks in some part due to heroic defending, and yes you have guessed it the Welsh went went up the pitch and sealed it with a third with five minutes to go. Belgium showed their brittleness but Wales deserved their victory because of their heart, battle and the simple case of putting their chances away. They have now made history as the first Welsh team to make the last four in a major championship. Their plan now will be to make yet more of it and win though to the final at the Stade de France on July 10th.
It is amazing that a team who has won 4 out of their 5 matches in normal time and one who has not won one in the regulation minutes are playing each other in the final four. It probably seems unfair, but football can be like that quite a lot of the time. I think it is going to be cruel again here in what will be an extremely cagey and nervy affair. A lot of the build up will centre around Ronaldo v Bale. Whilst I think both of their support acts will yet again do a brilliant job, though Wales will miss Aaron Ramsey and Portugal William Carvalho, I have a feeling it will be one of these two that will be the game breaker, with Ronaldo being the difference as he leads Portugal to a second European Championship Final. 1-0 to Portugal, whether that’s in 90 minutes or extra time we shall see.
There will be daily predictions on Euro 2016 and comment as and when I get the opportunity to pass on my take on the goings on in the tournament – enjoy – let me know your thoughts.
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