After Wales destroyed a strong Belgian side 3-1 in the quarterfinals, they served a reminder about their inherent football strength. Don’t count us out – was their message despite being tagged as a debutant side. They also have some off-the-field factors that have endeared them to the media. It wasn’t a long time in France for them but the global football press is already singing praises of Wales’ charming coach Chris Coleman and their no.1 player Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid star is one successful footballer, who doesn’t have an ego problem and his modesty has rubbed on his Wales teammates. Having come thus far, Coleman would want more from his boys. The Wales coach agrees that Cristiano Ronaldo could be a threat but dismisses the notion that Wednesday’s semifinal is only about a contest between the two highly rated Real Madrid footballers.
In a run-up to Wednesday’s crucial semifinal game between Wales and Portugal, the media attention remains focused on two big stars on either side. It is true that Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo will be vital to both sides, but the realty about their need for adequate support from their national line-ups cannot be overlooked. Ronaldo is Portugal’s captain and the lynchpin, about whom the action will revolve. He hasn’t been at his best until now but the Portuguese superstar is a football magician, capable of making a decisive difference. Even with his modest performance in Euro 2016 that resulted in his scoring only two goals and providing two assists, Ronaldo is still in the running for the adidas Golden Boot award. Wales must plan their strategy properly because too much attention on Ronaldo will allow others like Nani to invade Wales’ defenses. Ronaldo’s presence on the field creates an undue aura for the opponents and Wales cannot allow themselves to be swayed by it.
As for Gareth Bale, the man has led by example so far. He may not have scored many goals in the tournament but he contributed to three goals and his teammates draw huge inspiration from him. In his tenures at Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid, Bale has proved himself as a big-game player and his performance on July 6 will be a crucial factor if Wales were to reach the final. Bale’s work ethics are of high quality in endearing himself to the coach and his team as a whole. He didn’t have a hand in any goal in Wales’ 3-1 quarter-final win over Belgium, but his team couldn’t have scored the famous victory without him. He moves with a lightning speed with the ball and that characteristic once amazed none other than the great Usain Bolt. He is already being described by Welsh football media as the face of his team. If he can pull off the victory against Portugal, he would become part of a special moment in Welsh football history. Besides Bale, Coleman also has a big force in Hal Robson-Kanu. When he moves towards the opponent’s goal, he has the capacity to become a defender’s biggest challenge. The way he scored against Belgium was a treat to behold.
By all accounts, a great contest is on cards on Wednesday. Chris Coleman works with a fluid 5-3-2 formation to take advantage of the strengths of his forwards that also compensates for their vulnerabilities. A strong defense is Coleman’s foundation for success.
As for Portugal, they will not take things lying down. Coach Fernando Santos has done well so far and there is no reason for him to stop at that. He will be bent upon taking the best out of the Portuguese national team that is not all about Cristiano Ronaldo. Though the superstar is their mainstay, young Renato Sanchez has already proved his worth. Santos will try to extract the best from his 4-4-2 formation. Besides Sanchez, the team also has Adrien Silva and Joao Mario to support Ronaldo in the forward line. Some players could not be playing on account of suspension but Santos is unfazed. He has enough bench strength to find the replacements.
As for spectator support, the Portuguese expat community is the biggest in France. They should be present in big number on match day. Complete with the uniform of the national side, they will be there with scarves, flags and other paraphernalia to support their heroes. On the other hand, thousands of Welsh supporters have already arrived in France to lend a helping hand to their national team. In all the matches so far, the hearty rendition of the Wales national anthem has set the tone. There is an unwavering level of support for Bale and his colleagues and the media has christened the Wales team as the ‘Red Wall’.