In the battle between two of the most expensive stars from the world of football — Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo — it was the latter who came out victorious, after leading Portugal to a 2-0 win over Wales in the semifinals of the 2016 European Championships, in Lyon, on Wednesday.
This was the first time in this tournament that Portugal have managed a win within the 90 minutes regulation time. However, it was a heartbreaking loss for Wales, who toiled hard for most parts of the game but failed to come up with the goods in the end. On that note, let’s take a look at a few of the important points from this high-intensity encounter last night.
Wales victorious, even in defeat
The Dragons might have lost the semifinal 2-0, but they can go back home with their heads held high. This was the first time in 58 years that Wales had managed to qualify for a major international tournament. The last time they appeared in a major final was in the 1958 World Cup, where they bowed out to eventual champions Brazil in the quarterfinal.
What is amazing about their run to the semifinals this time round is that they have actually managed to better their best finish in a major international tournament (quarterfinal in the 1958 World Cup), despite the fact that they have not had any experience at this level for the last 58 years.
The likes of captain Ashley Williams, midfielders Joe Ledley, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey, and forwards Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu have performed brilliantly to carry the Dragons this far into the tournament. However, a lot of the praise must be reserved for head coach Chris Coleman.
Coleman took over as the head coach of Wales after the death of his predecessor and friend Gary Speed, and has managed to guide a team that was then ranked 117th in the FIFA rankings, to 11th [via Daily Mirror].
The back-three has been in fashion this time round at the European Championships, and Wales, along with Italy, have been the main propagators of the 3-5-2 formation in the tournament. Wales have been one of the surprise performers this tournament, and we shall certainly hope to see them do well in the 2018 World Cup yet again.
Cristiano Ronaldo comes up with the goods
The Real Madrid star showed yet again, why he is considered as one of the best footballers in the world. After a rather dab first half, it increasingly started to look as if the match would head towards extra time, and maybe even penalties. However, the Real Madrid star put his country into the lead on the 50th minute, with a wonderful header from a well worked-out corner.
The 31-year-old did well to lose his marker James Chester in the box and managed to leap higher than the rest of the players in the box to guide a powerful header into the goal. Ronaldo also managed to give the Portuguese a two-goal cushion, as he set up former Manchester United teammate Nani for the second goal, just three minutes later. What makes Ronaldo’s performance all the more remarkable is that he did not have any significant impact on the game, other than these three minutes, where he scored a goal and an assist.
In fact, Ronaldo had a poor shot accuracy of 22 per cent, and also managed to play just 23 accurate passes during the entire game. By comparison, Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey managed just two fewer successful passes than Ronaldo. However, it was Ronaldo’s brilliance in the few minutes after the restart, that got Portugal their first regulation time victory of the tournament.
Aaron Ramsey: A man who was sorely missed
The clash between Wales andn Portugal might have been billed as a ‘Bale vs Ronaldo’ tie, but the main man that the Dragons were missing in the semifinal was Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who was suspended. Coleman brought in a like-for-like replacement in Leicester City midfielder Andy King, as he did not want to upset the balance of the team.
However, the presence of the Arsenal man gives a completely different dimension to the Wales midfield. Ramsey is the driving force in the middle of the park that helps Wales play on the swift counter attacks.
While King’s overall passing accuracy was better than Ramsey’s, the Leicester man did not play a single key pass in the match. By comparison, Ramsey has been playing three key passes per game in the tournament. Wales also missed Ramsey’s energetic runs up and down the park, as he shifted to and fro between defence and attack.
Jose Fonte stepped up to the plate
The Portuguese defence was expected to struggle in the absence of Real Madrid centre-back Pepe. However, Southampton defender Jose Fonte stepped up to the plate and delivered a clinical performance in defence, to keep the Welsh attackers out.
It has been a tournament of ups and downs for the 32-year-old, as he was overlooked during the group stages, with Portugal coach Fernando Santos preferring to start with former Chelsea and Real Madrid man Ricardo Carvalho. However, conceding three goals to Hungary made Santos reconsider his options in defence, as he brought Fonte in to partner Pepe at centre-back.
The Southampton man looked calm and composed in defence against Wales, often playing a number of passes, with an 88 per cent accuracy, as the Portuguese controlled the game. Portugal will be looking to him to stop the German or the French attack in the final of the tournament.
Gareth Bale tried too much
Gareth Bale was a rather frustrated figure at the end of the match, as his side slid to a 2-0 defeat. However, the Real Madrid star, who was expected to light up the semifinal clash, only flattered to deceive during the game.
He was almost non-existent during the first half when both the sides were trying to figure out each other. In fact, it was not until Wales went 2-0 down that Bale finally took the game into his own hands. However, even then, it was quite clear that the 26-year-old was not being as effective as expected.
In fact, it might be said that Bale was guilty of trying too much when his side were 2-0 down. Instead of holding to his usual position up front, Bale tried to influence the game by dropping further down into midfield. However, it was quite clear why the Real Madrid forward is a forward, and not a midfielder. Bale only managed to play 31 successful passes during the entire game, at 69 per cent accuracy.
However, this could also be attributed to a shift in formation by Coleman, as he brought on attackers Sam Vokes and Simon Church. This strategy backfired though, as Wales lost numbers in the middle of the park and failed to pose any real threat on goal.