Euro Cup 2016 has been full of surprises. Pipped as favourites ahead of the tournament, Spain and England got knocked out early from the competition. The little-known Iceland (who will always be remembered for their “war cry” celebrations) and Wales have made their presence felt in the tournament.
The kettle is on the boil, we are into the semis. Portugal are up against Wales. For football fans across the world, this tournament pits the two Real Madrid strikers Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale against each other. For many, the game is going to boil down to these two world class forwards.
While Ronaldo has often been quoted saying that he desires to be the best footballer in the world, Bale is known for being a passionate champion for Welsh cause. He gave up the chance to play for much recognised England team in the year 2008, to play for his home country Wales.
Both the players are marked with their own ‘passions’, and own ‘demons’, and will give their all to reach to help their side make the final. But for Portugal, it might just come down to nerves.
Portugal have to fight against themselves in Wednesday night’s game. It is the fourth time they have reached the semi-final stage in a major international tournament in last 12 years.
In 2004 Euro Cup, Portugal shockingly lost the final at home against a much ‘disliked’ underdogs side Greece by 1-0 after Angelos Charisteas scored into the net in 57th minute. Greece defied the odds of 80-1 to win the tournament. The ‘historical baggage’ will certainly play on the minds of Ronaldo and his team.
Wales, on the other hand, have no ‘historical baggage’ to worry about. The country has reached its second major international tournament after 58 years. They lost in the quarter-finals against Brazil in 1958 FIFA World Cup when a 17-year old Pele scored the winner to become the youngest football player to score in a World Cup tournament.
This time, they have already made it the semi-finals. No one expected the smallest European participant to make it this far on the big stage. Wales started the tournament with 80-1 odds, just like Greece did in 2004.
The team led by Ronaldo in Euro 2016 has not played its best football, so far. Portugal have not won a single game in regular 90 minutes on their way to the semi-finals. The faithful might argue that they have not lost any either.
The fact remains that Portugal’s attacking has just let the team down. Ronaldo has recorded the worst free kick-to-goal conversion record in Euro.
Bale, his comrade-in arms for Real Madrid, has already scored two free kicks.
Wales, on the other hand, have played like true champions. The defence led by the captain Ashley Williams, the attacking midfield comprising of Arsenal star Aaron Ramsey and the forward threat posed by Bale and Robson-Kanu; every individual has shined throughout the course of the competition. The suspension of Ramsey in the crucial game does pose a big blow to the Welsh side, but the experience of Andy King, who has played 330 games for the current EPL Champions, Leicester City, might give a solid support in the mid-field.
Wales have nothing left to prove anymore. They can go out tonight, remain cool, calm and collected, and make those forward passes to find back of the net.
Pressure is on Portugal because if they bow out of the tournament now, it would leave the fans utterly disappointed. And Ronaldo’s side knows that. If they can keep their nerves calm and keep their heads in the game, they might just win tonight. But for now, Wales has a psychological advantage over their rivals.