Lyon (France) July 5 (IANS) Portugal and Wales, led by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, are set to face off in the first semi-final of the European Football Championship here on Wednesday.
The Portuguese team is seeking a victory that would mitigate the criticism received for their poor gameplay, while the Welsh remain immersed in a dream they do not want to end, reports Efe.
Both squads insist this is not a duel between Ronaldo and Bale, although most eyes will be set on the two skippers who are Real Madrid stars and colleagues.
Another Real player, Pepe, is the man tasked with stopping the Welsh idol’s offensive charges, even though it is not clear if he will recover from a slight thigh injury in time for the high-voltage duel.
The match is unprecedented for all three players, since the two teams have never before played against each other in an official game. There have been three previous friendly matches, with two wins for Portugal and one for Wales, played in 1949, 1951 and 2000.
Experience might be a deciding factor during the encounter, since Portugal have already played five Euro semi-finals, while this marks the first time Wales have qualified to such an advanced phase of the tournament.
However, the British team, led by a phenomenal Bale, faces a crucial moment ever while in great shape after steamrolling Belgium (3-1) in the quarter-finals. Wales also won against Slovakia (2-1), Russia (3-0) and Northern Ireland (1-0), although they lost 1-2 against England during the group stage.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese squad is still fending off criticism for its inability to win a single match during the standard 90-minute playing time. After a mediocre group stage performance, in which the team qualified with just three draws, Portugal only managed to score during extra time in the round of 16 against Croatia (1-0), and qualified for semi-finals after winning the penalty shootout against Poland (1-1).
Portuguese coach Fernando Santos insisted he preferred to play “in an ugly way” and stay in the tournament than the opposite. Santos will not be able to count on defender William Carvalho, suspended for accumulating yellow cards, and may resort to Danilo for the kick-off lineup.
The Portuguese manager will, however, have Andre Gomes and Raphael Guerreiro — who both missed the quarter-finals due to physical problems — at his disposal for the starting eleven.
As to the attacking trio, it seems like Renato Sanches, the team’s 18-year-old new sensation, will join Nani and Ronaldo, who has only scored two goals against Hungary so far.
On the other hand, Welsh manager Chris Coleman might find it more difficult to compose his starting lineup, since the team lacks a very deep bench.
Coleman will have to find substitutes for Aaron Ramsey, one of the squad’s pillars, and Ben Davies, both suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
The Welsh press speculated Tuesday that the best option to substitute Arsenal midfielder Ramsey might be Crystal Palace’s Jonny Williams, who is more offence-oriented than Leicester’s Andy King. Also, James Collins seems the most reasonable option to take Tottenham defender Davies’ place.
The team that snags victory tomorrow could receive an additional prize: participating in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup to be held in Russia next summer. This option would only be possible if Germany defeats France in the other semi-final and advances to the final.