The first semi-final of EURO 2016 will kickoff in Lyon tonight as Portugal face surprise package Wales in what is set to be an enthralling game.
Path to the semis:
Portugal failed to win a single group game drawing with Iceland,Austria and Hungary to qualify as a best third placed team. They were tested by Croatia all the way into extra time before a late Ricardo Quaresma goal secured their place in the quarter finals where they faced Poland. Portugal got off to a horrific start with Robert Lewandowski scoring the fastest goal of this years tournament inside the opening 100 seconds. However Renato Sanches, who was making his first start for the national team, leveled the sides before half-time. The two teams failed to score in the second half so extra-time was required, again they couldn’t get the better of one another so the tie went to penalties. Jakub Błaszczykowski missed Poland’s fourth penalty allowing Quaresma to fire home Portugal’s fifth to see them move into the semi-finals. Portugal have yet to really impress at this years tournament. They have capitalized on their opponents mistakes and have been fortunate that the opposition strikers have been off target. Center-back Pepe is a serious doubt heading into this match with 38 year-old Ricardo Carvalho set to replace him. Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in the group stages but has been quite since moving into the knockout rounds. Renato Sanches has wowed at just 18 years of age and looks certain to start this game. Portugal have plenty of talent but they need to move into second gear and flex their attacking muscles tonight if they are to progress.
Wales have shocked many fans by making it this far in the tournament. They topped their group thanks to wins over Slovakia and Russia with a 2-1 loss to England the only blotch in their copy book. They took on Northern Ireland in the last 16 and were given quite a game. A Gareth McAuley own goal tipped the scales in their favour. Many believed the Welsh fairy tale would end in the quarter-finals when they faced the No. 2 ranked team in the world Belgium. It certainly seemed that would be the case as the Belgians got off to a blistering start with Radja Nainggolan scoring a screamer inside the opening 13 minutes. However Welsh captain Ashley Williams began the comeback when he headed home his second goal for his country. With the sides level at the interval manager Chris Coleman could work his magic. The second half saw a spellbinding display. Hal Robson-Kanu scored his second goal of the tournament producing a Cryuff turn to beat the Belgian defence before slotting the ball home. The Belgians tested the Welsh defence but it stood strong. The icing on the cake came when substitute Sam Vokes headed in the third goal late on to confirm the sides place in the semi-finals. The whole team has been outstanding so far with Gareth Bale leading the charge. He has three goals so far – two from free kicks – and has been crucial in the construction of counter attacks. Midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen have done well to link defence to attack however Ramsey picked up a yellow card against Belgium and as a result will miss tonight’s clash. Robson-Kanu has shown great skill in front of goal for a free agent but credit must also be given at the opposite end to goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey who has produced top quality saves throughout the campaign. The Welsh team have played as their motto suggests they should ‘Together.stronger’. They will need to play their best football tonight to make it to the final but they have shown they have the quality to beat the big boys of European football.
This game is one you won’t want to miss.Be sure to check back here for a full match report.