Cristiano Ronaldo won Portugal the match, but Wales were the better team through Euro 2016 - Firstpost
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Cristiano Ronaldo won Portugal the match, but Wales were the better team through Euro 2016

Wales have lost. They have been beaten by Portugal in the semi-final of the 2016 European Championships. The phenomenal run that has captured the attention of a country where Rugby Union will always be the king of sports is over. Chris Coleman and his team have not only exceeded expectations, they have literally got further than any football team from this small country of three million people have ever done before.

Ahead of this game, much of the coverage had been about Cristiano Ronaldo versus Gareth Bale. It was a clash of the two most expensive football players ever, the Real Madrid Galacticos. There was only one problem. Other than making a big deal out of a challenge by Ashley Williams just outside the Welsh penalty, the Portuguese forward was on the periphery of this game for the first 45 minutes.

By contrast, Gareth Bale was responsible for much of the attacking moments in a first half where Wales were very much the better side. The closest Wales came to scoring was when he fired a ball across the box, that was well close to being turned in by a sliding Andy King, but it was well cleared by Rui Patricio.

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring the opening goal next to Gareth Bale. AP

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring the opening goal next to Gareth Bale. AP

Bale had another chance when he ran through the Portuguese midfield and at their defence, before choosing to go for the goal himself from 25 yards out, but the shot was straight at the ‘keeper. As the teams walked off at halftime, the Welsh would have been the happier group.

Then the second half happened and all of that confidence that had been hard won before the break was gone in the space of some three minutes. That missing Ronaldo was discovered and won his team the game.

There is a reason that Ronaldo has scored 56 goals this season (before this match,) he really is very good. He and Portugal have been difficult to watch at this tournament, especially in the knockouts. They have found a way to win, which is to their credit, but the football they have played has been defensive and uninspiring. Against Croatia they went 118 minutes without a shot on target. 118!

There is method to this approach and an appearance in the final is evidence that it works. But there have been times where rubbing a cheese grater on your forehead would have been more entertaining than a Portugal performance.

Not that Wales are some sort of attacking powerhouse, their approach is equally pragmatic; but in the end the class of Ronaldo in the space of 180 seconds made all the difference between two sides that have gotten this far on the back being pragmatic.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise when Ronaldo scored his 57th goal of 2015/16, but it came as a shock for Wales having been so solid in the game up until that point. Perhaps neutrals weren’t shocked either, but it definitely came against the run of play.

One of the most impressive things about Ronaldo’s game is how good he is in the air, and he placed a bullet of a header past Wayne Hennessy. He leaped like he was using a trampoline and timed his jump superbly. There was literally nothing anyone in the Wales team could have done.

The same could not be said for the second goal, which was a bit of a farce from the Welsh who had not recovered from going a goal down. A long range effort from Ronaldo was deflected into the path of Nani who finished well, but the lead up to that second goal was a scrappy mess from the Welsh defence. It was 2-0 and Wales’s involvement in Euro 2016 was all but over.

Portugal didn’t outplay or outclass Wales, but they found a way to score when the Welsh did not. They made it to the semi-final of a major tournament and did not look out of place, or a Welsh team that have only one truly world class player and who were missing the other man close to that level (Aaron Ramsey who was suspended,) is an achievement in itself.

The absence of Aaron Ramsey , who was the most influential Welsh player in almost every match up to this point, was vital. While he will never be lauded the way Bale has been, his contributions in Euro 2016 have been more telling for the most part. If he had not got a yellow card in the quarter-final against Belgium, things could have been different, but at the end of the day a Portuguese team that has fine players and were well organised, won.

As the Welsh fans in Lyon sung Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, they were clearly not disappointed in their team, but the players will be. They have been a better team than Portugal throughout this tournament and they underperformed on Wednesday.

Regardless, when they get home to Cardiff they will be feted like victors. The players will be bitterly disappointed with the result against Portugal but when they get a chance to reflect on the last three weeks the only feeling should be pride. They will forever be associated with the motto Cymru am byth.

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