Portugal outclass directionless Wales

Cristiano Ronaldo rose over Neil Taylor to meet Joao Mario’s looping cross. The ball had come in high, passing over most of the bodies who had amassed in the box and leaving Ronaldo with a perfect match-up at the back post. The Portuguese star had already played a strong game, but he was about to leave his mark on the match. His header into the top corner was just the beginning, and it kicked off a short period which booked Portugal’s spot in the final of Euro 2016.

Over the course of a few minutes Ronaldo transformed the semi-final between Portugal and Wales from an enticing contest into a foregone conclusion. The Portuguese captain scored and provided an assist to put the Welsh two goals down and out of contention. They recovered from a group stage defeat against England, and they recovered after going behind against Belgium, but they would not recover from this. It was over.

Ronaldo’s goal put all the pressure back on the Welsh, and minutes later he provided the sucker punch. This time Ronaldo was the creator, even if he did not intend to be. The Portuguese moved forward in numbers as they looked to counter-attack, and Ronaldo found himself in a good position to shoot. The effort was straight at Wayne Hennessey, but Nani was there and he deflected the shot past the Welsh keeper into the back of the net. The ball rolled over the line, and with it went Wales’ hopes of playing in their first ever major tournament final.

In truth, the Welsh were playing from behind right from the word go due to the unfair suspension of Aaron Ramsey, the player who linked everything together for them. Joe Allen looked lost, Ashley Williams had no-one to pass to and Gareth Bale seemed to be responsible for both setting up goals and scoring them. Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t do both at the same time.

Portugal were on top from the start, but the Welsh were well organised defensively and were not letting anything through. James Collins had Ronaldo covered, and Bale looked more dangerous than the Portuguese despite his relative lack of possession. He looked quick, explosive and powerful. He looked too good for Portugal. He looked too good for anyone. If only he had more of the ball.

The first half passed without too much action, with Bale providing most of the exciting moments. He provided the highlight of the half when he ran 70 metres down the right wing with an explosive burst of pace, but it came to nothing when his shot was drilled at Rui Patricio, who made the easy save. Then the second half began with Portugal’s rapid-fire goals, and the game was all but over.

Bale was working harder than anyone else on the pitch, but he couldn’t do it. He challenged Patricio with powerful long shots and created some great chances which he himself would have converted. He was good enough to penetrate the Portuguese defence, but Sam Vokes and Simon Church were not and he was needed elsewhere. The game trundled on towards its inevitable conclusion until Jonas Eriksson blew his whistle to signal a thoroughly deserved win for the Portuguese. They were more organised, more skilful and more composed, and they have a great chance of winning Euro 2016.

Lyon – Parc Olympique Lyonnais
Portugal 2 (Ronaldo 50, Nani 53)
Wales 0
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Swe)

Portugal (4-1-3-2): Rui Patricio – Cedric, Bruno Alves, Jose Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro; Danilo; Joao Mario, Renato Sanches (Andre Gomes 74), Adrien Silva (Joao Moutinho 79); Nani (Quaresma 86), Ronaldo.
Wales (5-3-2): Hennessey – Gunter, Chester, Collins (J Williams 66), A Williams, Taylor; Allen, Ledley (Vokes 58), King; Robson-Kanu (Church 63), Bale.

Top 5
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Ronaldo had an excellent game up front, getting himself involved in the action and looking dangerous throughout. The Portuguese captain scored one goal and set up the other, and was the best player on the ground. He was at the top of his game and will be a massive threat in the final.
2. Gareth Bale (Wales)
Bale worked very hard up front and caused plenty of problems for the Portuguese with his mobility and explosive pace. He never gave up and was still a threat when the final whistle blew. He had an excellent game and can hold his head high.
3. Joao Mario (Portugal)
Mario was poor against Croatia and Poland but he was back at his best against Wales. He was clinical in his ball use and he made plenty of dangerous runs. He assisted Ronaldo’s goal and was continually getting into dangerous positions in attack, nearly scoring on a couple of occasions.
4. James Collins (Wales)
Collins was responsible for shutting down Ronaldo early on, and he did a fairly good job. He was never beaten in the air and he was able to shut down plenty of Portuguese attacks. He was substituted in the second half as Wales looked to come back, but he played well and can take some comfort from his performance.
5. Nani (Portugal)
Nani scored Portugal’s second goal with a clever deflection, and he complemented Ronaldo well in attack. He caused plenty of issues for the Welsh with his pace and ability to get into dangerous positions, and he was one of the best players on the field.

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Iceland show that miracles can happen

Sometimes, in the relatively predictable world of international football, it can feel as if big upsets just don’t happen anymore. It can feel as if the day has long passed where a minnow can come up against a powerhouse with a win, and even a draw is considered remarkable. Yet Iceland have shown that upsets are still possible, and with one well-taken volley from Birkir Bjarnason they came from behind against Portugal to snatch a 1-1 draw in Saint-Etienne.

Such was the excitement that surrounded Iceland’s qualification that many in the country lobbied for a public holiday coinciding with the clash with the Portuguese. This was their first ever game at the finals of a major tournament, and they were out to prove that they were good enough. Iceland had one of the best chances of the game within five minutes, when their star, Gylfi Sigurdsson, broke through the Portuguese defence. Rui Patricio was ready, and he saved both the first attempt and the follow-up volley. From that point on it was all Portugal. They controlled possession, and Iceland let them keep the ball while covering them in an organised manner. Lars Lagerback had them well-drilled defensively, and there was no easy way to break down their formation. It was clear from the outset that Portugal were going to have to work very hard for this one.

They had plenty of opportunities. Nani was very dangerous, drifting around in the front third, and he should have scored when Cristiano Ronaldo delivered him a perfect cross. His header was agonisingly close, but Hannes Halldorsson was able to get a foot to it and keep it out. Ronaldo was able to find space in the box for a header, but his effort went wide. A long ball over the Icelandic defence saw Ronaldo one-on-one with Halldorsson, but the Real Madrid star could not connect with the ball. Finally, all the territory and possession paid off. Andre Gomes took two touches; one to play the ball to Vierinha out wide, and a first-time cross after receiving the ball again to set up Nani with a perfectly placed cross. Nani took advantage of the space he had been allowed, and Halldorsson never had a chance.

After Nani found the back of the net Iceland’s chances of an equaliser looked slim, to say the least. Their spirit did not dissipate, however, and shortly after half-time they had picked up a leveller against the run of play. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson was able to make his way into the corner with the ball, and he cut it back for Johann Gudmundsson on the wing. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson drew the defence away from Bjarnason, and Gudmundsson found him with precision. With one touch Birkir Bjarnason made history by scoring Iceland’s first ever goal at the finals of a major tournament, volleying the ball past a helpless Patricio into the bottom corner.

Portugal were desperate to score again, and minor mistakes started to come into their game. Nani looked like scoring again after Halldorsson was unable to hold Vierinha’s cross, but he could not control the ball and it was scooped up gratefully by the Icelandic keeper. Iceland still had the occasional chance, but for the most part they were sitting back, willing to absorb the Portuguese pressure. Portugal should have scored when Raphael Guerreiro’s free kick was flicked on by the ever-dangerous Nani. Halldorsson had no chance, but the header was just wide. Ricardo Quaresma, risked as a substitute despite a hamstring concern, had his shot deflected towards goal, but Halldorsson parried it away for a corner. Pepe had a golden opportunity after Quaresma’s corner, but he could not find the target. Portugal continued to push, and were increasingly desperate.

Ronaldo’s impact had been fairly subdued all day, but he was turned to in the last few minutes as Portugal tried to fall back on their star to bail them out. It wasn’t going to happen. Ronaldo had a brilliant chance when he found himself presented with a straightforward header, but Halldorsson didn’t let it through, making an exceptional reflex save. Guerreiro targeted him with a cross from range, but Kari Arnason would not let it get through. In the end it was Ronaldo who had the last kick of the game, a free kick from 24 metres out. It was a distance that he had scored from many times before, but the Icelandic wall was too solid. The ball rebounded off the wall, referee Cuneyt Cakir blew his whistle and all of Iceland rejoiced. The game finished at 1-1, but it will have the same value as a win in the smallest nation at the Euros. On this night, they fought admirably, and only the most partisan Portuguese supporter would deny Iceland their chance to celebrate.

Stade Geoffroy-Guichard – Saint-Etienne
Portugal 1 (Nani 31)
Iceland 1 (B Bjarnason 50)
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Tur)

Portugal (4-4-2): Rui Patricio – Vierinha, R Carvalho, Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro; Joao Mario (Ricardo Quaresma 76), Danilo, Joao Moutinho (Renato Sanches 71), Andre Gomes (Eder 84); Nani, Ronaldo.
Iceland (4-4-2): Halldorsson – Saevarsson, R Sigurdsson, Arnason, Skulason; Gudmundsson (T Bjarnason 90), Gunnarsson, G Sigurdsson, B Bjarnason; Sigthorsson (Finnbogason 81), Bodvarsson.

Top 5
1. Nani (Portugal)
Nani was Portugal’s only scorer, and he was the most dangerous player on the pitch. He had many great chances, and he was able to find space against the disciplined Icelandic defence by shifting from left to right depending on where the ball was. His goal just past the half-hour mark was a quality finish, and he looked like a threat when many of his teammates didn’t.
2. Hannes Halldorsson (Iceland)
Halldorsson played the game of his life in goal, and he made numerous saves to keep out Nani, Ronaldo and anyone else who challenged him. He made some extraordinary saves, and his ability to deny the Portuguese when they shot from point-blank range proved vital in the end. Halldorsson was at the top of his game, and was the main reason Iceland were so solid defensively.
3. Andre Gomes (Portugal)
Gomes set up Nani for Portugal’s only goal with two excellent touches, and his work on both wings made life difficult for Iceland’s fullbacks. He was substituted late in the piece as Fernando Santos looked for more attackers, but he was one of Portugal’s best and looks in good form for the rest of the tournament.
4. Birkir Bjarnason (Iceland)
Bjarnason scored Iceland’s goal, and his work on the left edge was strong in both attack and defence. He was booked for an unnecessary challenge shortly after he scored, but his effort was top-class and he was Iceland’s biggest danger in attack. He was able to find plenty of space on the break, and his crosses from the left wing caused plenty of issues for Portugal.
5. Raphael Guerreiro (Portugal)
Guerreiro played at left back, and while he did not need to do much defensive work he was very threatening in attack and his crossing in open play and from set pieces was excellent. He provided plenty of chances for the players up front, and he was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing game for Portugal.