And then there were four.
Portugal, Wales, France and Germany are the remaining participants in the 2016 UEFA European Championship. The semifinal round will take place this week, with Portugal facing Wales on Wednesday and host France playing Germany on Thursday. The winners will advance to the Euro 2016 final, which takes place Sunday at the Stade de France.
The remaining games also are likely to determine the tournament’s top goal scorer, as five of the six current leaders’ teams still are alive. France’s Antoine Griezmann leads with four goals, but teammates Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet and Wales’ Gareth Bale are close behind with three. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo has scored just two goals at Euro 2016, but he’s capable of overtaking the others with one shining performance.
Let’s take a look at the semifinal matchups.
While Portugal and Wales have played three times, most recently in 2000, their first competitive meeting is set to be monumental.
Portugal has established its European Championship pedigree this century, reaching the semifinals in four of the last five Euros. But it has advanced to the final only once — in 2004 when Ronaldo was just 19.
Despite its pedigree, Portugal hasn’t peaked at Euro 2016, having astonishingly reached the semifinals without winning a single one of its five games in 90 minutes.
Wales has succeeded in its maiden Euro voyage, winning four of five games at Euro 2016. Wales’ debut European Championship campaign already is the stuff of legends, and the group that has grown up together as international soccer players is poised to make even more history if its incredible team spirit paves the road to the final.
In 1984, Portugal became the Euro debutante to reach the semifinals. Wales already has equaled that feat and can go one step further by beating Portugal on Wednesday.
Ronaldo and Bale helped Real Madrid win the 2016 UEFA Champions League as teammates, but they’ll be opponents in Portugal-Wales.
Many consider Bale to be Ronaldo’s heir apparent at Real Madrid. Ronaldo has no intention of stepping down from his pedestal any time soon. If Bale ever wants to be the main man at the Spanish club, he must outplay Ronaldo. Doing so in the Euro 2016 semifinal would be some statement of intent.
Portugal’s William Carvalho is suspended, as are Wales’ Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies.
Pepe, Portugal’s leading center back, is doubtful due to a thigh injury.
Wales’ dream will continue with a hard-fought 2-1 win … in extra time.
The Paris terror attacks overshadowed France’s last game against Germany on Nov. 13, 2015, but soccer will win the next time they meet.
Germany, the reigning FIFA World Cup champion, looks to join France (1998, 2000) and Spain (2010, 2012) as the only teams to ever hold world and European titles simultaneously. Doing so would end its 20-year wait for European glory.
Germany has won two and drawn one of four games it has played against France in major tournaments, including a 1-0 victory in the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals.
France won Euro 1984 and the 1998 World Cup on home soil, and the current team wants to join its illustrious predecessors.
Offense meets defense.
France is the top-scoring team at Euro 2016 with 11 goals in five games. “Les Bleus” are undefeated in their last nine games, including four wins out of five at Euro 2016.
Germany is unbeaten in six games, with three wins and two draws at Euro 2016 highlighting its fine form. Germany has conceded only one goal so far at Euro 2016. Can the “Mannschaft” silence France’s attack and home supporters Thursday in Marseille?
Germany will be without standout center back Mats Hummels, who is suspended for the semifinals. Striker Mario Gomez and midfielder Sami Khedira are injured and likely will miss the rest of the tournament.
France has its full squad available.
Germany will spoil France’s party because that’s what Germany does.
Thumbnail photo via Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via July 4, 2014; Rio De Janeiro, BRAZIL; Germany player Thomas Mueller (13) goes up for a header against France player Patrice Evra during the quarterfinal match in the 2014 World Cup at Estadio Do Maracana. Mandatory Credit: Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports