Portugal, like France did against Iceland, finally lived up to the pre-tournament hype, and delivered a thumping performance to outduel Welsh Dragons in a pulsating Semi Final game in Lyon on Wednesday. The game, billed as the face-off between two Galacticos, Cristano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, turned out to be anything but…
The two Galacticos showed the stuff they are made of, but Ronaldo rightly earned bragging rights. While there was not much to choose between the two superstars, the Portuguese came into the tournament with a far better pedigree than the Welsh, but it was the Welsh whose commitment and team discipline caught the attention of pundits, while the Portuguese struggled to convince. In this game however, Ronaldo and Bale showed their quality, and while it was only Ronaldo that got on the score sheet, Bale carried the tag of Most Expensive Player in the World well: he led his team by example, and was unlucky not to score.
Wales missed Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman bossed the middle in the victory against Belgium and his guile and experience would have served the Welsh well in this game that they looked overstretched and over-matched, especially in the second half. The Welsh had better possession in percentages, but were second best in every other statistical match-up.
They say little mistakes lead to big accidents, and that accurately summed up the Welsh adventure in the semi-final. They were tactically disciplined and tenaciously stuck to their tasks in the first half, especially in defence; but lost track of their duties in the second half. How else did Ronaldo escape to get a near free header for the first goal? And how did the diligent Welsh defence miss the run of Nani that got the second three minutes later? They won every aerial battle and cut off every single pass into their box in the first half, they lost track in the second and paid for it.
Portuguese class finally showed. If the A Selecao were lukewarm in earlier matches, they were imperious in the Semi Final, almost treating the Welsh with disdain. And for the first time, Bale seemed not to trust his team mates, cue the wild shots.
The Golden Generation of Portuguese football lost the 2004 European Championship Final to Greece, the 2016 Generation are one step away from re writing the history of Portuguese football.