Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Ronaldo ends Wales' fairytale dream

Wales 0 - Portugal 2

By Mark Ogden

Cristiano Ronaldo has never been keen on allowing Gareth Bale to take centre stage at Real Madrid, so it should be no surprise that the Portugal captain denied the Welshman the glory of a place in the Euro 2016 final with a match-winning display to end Wales' dreams in Lyon.

Having won the hearts of a nation by progressing to the semi-finals in France in their first major tournament since 1958, Chris Coleman's team can now prepare for a homecoming parade in Cardiff rather than a trip to Paris on Sunday.

And when they assess their failure to take one more step - failure is hardly the right word - it will be the contribution of Ronaldo which ultimately made all the difference.

A stunning header which gave Portugal the lead, followed by a pass to Nani for the second, three minutes later, saw Ronaldo win the personal duel with Real team-mate Bale.

But this game was bigger than that for two of the world's most outstanding footballers. It was about carrying their country to the brink of becoming European champions and it is Ronaldo and Portugal who are now just 90 minutes away from that distinction.

Wales? They have made an immeasurable impact and created heroes for a new generation to idolise, so their success is without question.

Wales were facing their first major semi-final without the suspended Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies, and they left big holes in Coleman's starting XI.

The job of overcoming the loss of Ramsey's creativity and work ethic in midfield was handed to Leicester City's Andy King, while James Collins was handed the thankless task of attempting to shackle Ronaldo.

It is a testament to the Welsh team ethic, however, that both assumed their duties seamlessly.

Portugal had their own selection issues, with Real Madrid centre-half Pepe ruled out with a thigh injury and midfielder William Carvalho suspended.

But just as against Belgium in last Friday's quarter-final in Lille, Wales started slowly.

Joe Allen twice lost the ball in dangerous positions inside the opening eight minutes, with a yellow card the punishment on the second occasion when he fouled Nani.

Collins then escaped a strong Portugal penalty appeal when referee Jonas Eriksson dismissed Ronaldo's claims, despite the Wales defender clearly hauling the Portuguese captain to the ground.

It was not until midway through the first-half that Wales tested Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio with a flurry of good efforts.

Bale began to involve himself, sending a left foot shot from Joe Ledley's corner over the bar before delivering a dangerous cross for King at the near post. But there was no real sense of Patricio being overly concerned and that was the theme of the first-half - shadow boxing with the real punches still to be thrown.

When those punches came, they were delivered by Portugal. The first came from Ronaldo on 50 minutes and it was a majestic contribution.

Having lost Collins just inside the penalty area for Adrien Silva's corner, Ronaldo burst into the six-yard box and, with incredible spring, outjumped the static James Chester to send a bullet header past the helpless Wayne Hennessey.

And as Coleman and Wales were beginning to plot a route back off the ropes, Ronaldo hurt them again three minutes later by creating the opening for Nani. The former Manchester United winger ghosted between Collins and Ashley Williams before diverting Ronaldo's cross home.

Bale attempted to make a difference with two long range efforts, but it was in vain. Wales had nothing left. It was Portugal and Ronaldo's night, but Wales have had a month of those.

WALES: Hennessey, Gunter, Collins (J Williams 66), A Williams, Chester, Taylor, Allen, Ledley (Vokes 58), King, Robson-Kanu (Church 63), Bale.

Goals: none

Subs not used: Fon Williams, Edwards, Richards, Cotterill, Williams, Ward, Vaughan.

PORTUGAL: Rui Patrício, Soares, Fonte, Bruno Alves, Guerreiro, Danilo, Renato Sanches (André Gomes 74), João Mário, Adrien Silva (João Moutinho 79), Ronaldo, Nani (Quaresma 86).

Goals: Ronaldo 50, Nani 53

Subs not used: Carvalho, Éder, Vieirinha, Lopes, Rafa Silva, Eliseu, Eduardo.

Booked: Wales: Allen, Chester, Bale. Portugal: Bruno Alves, Ronaldo.

Man of the match: Ronaldo

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)


Belfast Telegraph