Cristiano Ronaldo is a man and a soccer legend, not a myth.
Ronaldo lifted Portugal into the final of the 2016 UEFA European Championship on Wednesday, scoring the game-winning goal in a hard-fought 2-0 semifinal win over Wales. Ronaldo, Portugal’s superstar captain, soared above the other players to head home the winning goal in the 50th minute. Nani poked in the second goal just three minutes later, giving the experienced and determined Portugal team a lead Wales lacked the strength to cut.
The victory marked Portugal’s first triumph within 90 minutes at Euro 2016. Portugal had drawn its first five games, beating Croatia in extra time in the Round of 16 and Poland on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. This time, Ronaldo and Co. reached new heights — at the exact moment Wales sunk to a low point during it’s dream run in France.
Portugal’s pedigree at this level, four semifinal appearances in the last five Euros, was the difference, as debutantes Wales lost concentration and belief for a short-spell. Portugal pounced twice, and Wales couldn’t respond, despite its best efforts.
Nothing could separate Portugal from Wales in the first 45 minutes. They were level in score and just about even in possession and chances created in the opening period. That dynamic held for just five minutes into the second half. Ronaldo then found his breakthrough — not on the ground where most of the game is played but in the air where the supreme athlete is capable of putting the team on his back and reaching places no other player can.
Ronaldo’s goal was purposeful. His assist on Nani’s strike three minutes later wasn’t. Wales’ defense deflected Ronaldo’s wayward shot into the goal-mouth where Nani pounced and poked the loose ball into the goal.
Despite trailing by two, the incredible commitment and spirit which drove Wales to the semifinal remained intact. Star forward Gareth Bale did everything in his power to match Ronaldo’s effect, but Portugal was too experienced and focused to let this lead slip.
Both teams tried in vain to score the next goal, which undoubtedly would have changed the tenor of the closing stage of the contest. It never came, for this was Portugal’s night to win without humbling Wales.
Here are a few other aspects of Portugal’s Euro 2016 semifinal win over Wales.
Ronaldo vs. Bale
The two are teammates at Real Madrid, but they faced off at international level with the soccer world watching closely. Neither side created much of anything in the first half, but Ronaldo and Bale were involved in their teams’ best chances.
Ronaldo made the decisive contribution in the second half. Bale attempted to will Wales back into contention, shooting from near and far, but the magic touch required to beat Portugal’s defense and goalkeeper Rui Patricio was missing.
The sidekicks every hero needs
Ronaldo (31) and Nani (29) have been Portugal teammates since 2006. They suffered semifinal heartache together in that year’s FIFA World Cup and in Euro 2012. Portugal’s key attacking duo powered them during the fateful spell early in the second half, just as they have throughout their team’s Euro 2016 campaign.
Bale and Wales badly needed Aaron Ramsey, who was suspended due to yellow-card accumulation. Ramsey, Wales’ chief creative influence in its first five games in France, undoubtedly agonized as he watched Portugal beat his team from afar.
Nothing like the first time
After six consecutive draws in 90 minutes (including five in Euro 2016), Portugal finally won in normal time. Portugal did so by breaking new ground.
Wales’ goal-scoring streak ended at the worst time.
Goals mean everything in tight games like these.
Thumbnail photo via YouTube/Ramailo Nepal
Thumbnail photo via Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal past Wales in the semifinals of Euro 2016.