KEIR RADNEDGE in LYON —- Man of the match Cristiano Ronaldo hit Wales with the old one-two to lift Portugal into their first appearance in the final of a major tournament here in the first semi-final of Euro 2016 in Lyon.
After a cautious, low-maintenance first half CR7 took control of the night and his duel with Real Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale, on the opposite side, by scoring the first of the goals with which Portugal won 2-0.
Within three minutes captain Ronaldo then rifled in the right-foot cross-shot which team-mate Nani deflected past keeper Wayne Hennesey for Portugal’s second.
If Portugal were now heading towards history, Wales had already achieved it, having never appeared in even the semi-finals of a major tournament; they only played on a big stage once before and that was way back in the days of black and white television in the 1958 World Cup.
But this was full colour, media and world fan attention as never before. No British team had reached a major semi since England on home ground in Euro 96.
Wales, who had risen in four years from 117 in the world, had made history. Of course they wanted more. But against a technically superior Portuguese side with consistent big-event experience it was a tall order, just too tall in the end.
Ronaldo fell in all directions around the Welsh penalty area in the opening exchanges, as if trying to soften up Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson to be sympathetic at some stage later in the contest. Wales largely contented themselves with an early-stage game of care and containment.
This put the onus very much on Portugal to make whatever they could of the game though they had their own defensive strategy, with Danilo playing as a midfield anchor to block off Bale whenever the Madrid man seized possession. Bale’s response was to run wide and force Wales’ first corner.
Joe Ledley took it, low and flat for Bale to snap back out of the goal area and twist and turn and shoot wide. That levelled up the early attempts, with Joao Mario have fired a wide, angled effort across the Welsh goal minutes earlier.
The pace of Bale embarrassed Portugal more than once but, since they tended to hold more possession high up the pitch, this rarely proved serious. Joe Allen snapped around busily in midfield, collecting a yellow card for his pains and his effectiveness was evident in seeing Ronaldo trail further and further from the danger area in search of the ball.
Ronaldo, however, did flash a header wide just before half-time, as if he were taking aim. That proved ominous. He was.
Five minutes into the second half Ronaldo rose magnificently above James Chester to power a classic header into the net for Portugal’s first goal to a cross byRaphael Guerrero from Joao Mario’s short corner on the left.
Not a hair on his head was stirred by the brilliance of the effort which brought him level with Michel Platini on a record nine goals in Europeam finals tournaments (albeit Platini’s were all achieved in one tournament, Ronaldo’s in four).
Three minutes later and Ronaldo struck again. Wales cleared the ball weakly under aeral pressure from little Renato Sanches and Ronaldo seized possession to let fly with a right-foot effort which Nani deflected into the net as Hennessey dived the wrong way.
This was Nani’s 20th goal for his country.
Wales had no option now but to go for it and made three substitutions in quick succession to change tactical direction. That meant leaving gaps and Portugal should have plundered advantage
Instead Joao Mario shot badly wide with the goal at his mercy after Hennessey only parried a drive from Nani. Then the goalkeeper saved at second attempt after Danilo robbed Bale and burst through with the goal again at his mercy. Ronaldo even had time to hit the side net before referee Eriksson blew his final whistle on Portugal’s progress . . . and Wales’ remarkable achievement in defeat.
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