Recap: Twelve years after falling in the final as a teenager, Cristiano Ronaldo will get another chance to claim a major international title after inspiring Portugal to victory over Wales in the Euro 2016 semifinals. With little to choose between two cautious sides, Ronaldo produced a trademark physics-defying leap from a cross to the back post to break the deadlock eight minutes into the second half. And three minutes later the match was effectively put beyond Wales, when Ronaldo’s strike was diverted into the net by a quick-thinking Nani.
Wales huffed and puffed in an effort to get back into the game, but without the suspended Aaron Ramsey, it simply didn’t have the quality to break down a Portugal defense that has conceded just one goal in the knockout phase. After making it all the way to the semifinals in its first major tournament in 58 years, Wales has plenty to be proud of from its month in France. If there is any regret, it will be that it didn’t display more positivity, as it did when stunning Belgium in the quarterfinals. Without Ramsey, though, that was always likely to be a difficult task.
Portugal played with similar caution, as it has done ever since scraping through the group phase as one of the best third-placed teams. It has hardly been a thrilling run to the final, but few in Portugal will care as it prepares for a final on Sunday against either host France or world champion Germany.
Portugal will be a considerable underdog at the Stade France, no matter which opponent it ends up facing, but with Ronaldo on the pitch the Portuguese will surely feel the team has a chance.
The game was billed as a battle between the two Real Madrid teammates, Bale and Ronaldo. And, while Bale got more involved in the buildup play and had one particularly dangerous effort that flew wide in the first half, it was Ronaldo who grabbed the headlines, issuing a reminder of his continued game-winning abilities.
The height of his leap to Raphael Guerreiro’s cross was special enough, but the hang time made it even more impressive. And, having failed to make the most of a headed chance in the first half, he was never going to miss at the second time of asking. It was a goal that not sent Portugal on the path to victory, but put him level with France great Michel Platini as the all-time leading goal-scorer in European Championships. How he would now love to break the record in the final and finally avenge Portugal’s defeat on home soil to Greece in Euro 2004.
FULL TIME! Portugal 2-0 Wales
Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, from a superb leap and header, and Nani, just three minutes apart early in the second half take Portugal through to the Euro 2016 final. The dream run is over for Wales after a game in which there was very little between the sides but it may be left wondering if, having been so impressive against Belgium, it should have been more positive in the early going.
90 mins: Three minutes of injury time to be played before Portugal can celebrate its place in a second major final.
88 mins: It hasn't been Bale's night, a fact emphasized by now picking up a booking for a high boot into the face of Cedric.
87 mins: The scorer of Portugal's second goal, Nani, goes off to be replaced by Ricardo Quaresma for the final minutes.
86 mins: The chances are opening up now for Portugal on the break as Wales commit men forward. Ronaldo has just found himself running unchecked into the box, but hsi touch around Hennessey took him too wide and he could only put his shot into the side netting.
80 mins: Bale is trying his best to try and give Wales a lifeline and has just tested Rui Patricio with a superb bending effort from 40 yards out. Wales now looking a little more dangerous. Jonny Williams has certainly added some spark since coming on. It looks to be too little too late for the Welsh, though.
78 mins: Almost a nightmare for Hennessey, who spills Danilo's shot but is able to gratefully clutch onto the ball before it crosses the line. The Crystal Palace goalkeeper has looked very shaky since Wales fell 2-0 behind.
77 mins: Wales need something special from Bale, and he has just tried to provide it. A ball sat up invitingly for him to hit 25 yards out and he struck it well, but, unfortunately for him, straight at Rui Patricio.
74 mins: Renato Sanchez, who has shown flashes of his extraordinary talent today, is hurried off the pitch byt he Swedish referee as he is replaced by Valencia midfielder Andre Gomes.
72 mins: Ronaldo earns himself a yellow card for his reaction after fouling Williams. He's unlikely to mind, though, having equaled Michel Platini's all-time European Championship goal-scoring record with nine.
71 mins: Wales again struggle to deal with an aerial ball into the box, Fonte rising highest to a corner, but this time Hennessey able to make a comfortable save.
70 mins: Wales has now gone to a 4-3-3, with Bale, Church and Vokes in attack. It's going to take something very special, though, to score twice against a Portugal side that has conceded just once in the knockout phase.
66 mins: Wales is lucky it's not 3-0 down. Hennessey spills Nani's deflected effort straight out ot Joao Mario, but the Sporting Lisbon midfielder fires the rebound wide. Meanwhile, Wales has made its final substitution, taking off center-back Collins and bringing on offensive-minded midfielder Jonny Williams.
Here's Portugal's second goal, as Nani diverts in Ronaldo's effort.
64 mins: Chris Coleman makes his second substitution, replacing Hal Robson-Kanu with Simon Church in a like-for-like switch up front.
63 mins: Ronaldo, whose free-kicks have been poor in recent months, has just fired a far better effort, sending the ball dipping just over the crossbar.
61 mins: Bale, now playing in a more withdrawn role, finds some space and chips a ball through for Vokes, but the recently arrived Vokes can't take the ball in his stride. Those are the sort of openings that Wales now need to be taking full advantage of.
58 mins: Wales respond to conceding two goals in quick succession by taking off midfielder Joe Ledley for forward Sam Vokes. The Burnley man was part of Wales' fine comeback from 1-0 down against Belgium in the quarterfinals, but it's a huge task now for Wales to come back from this and keep its great run at Euro 2016 alive.
Here's Ronaldo's goal to open the scoring:
GOAL! Portugal 2-0 Wales (Nani, 53)
It's two goals in three minutes for Portugal to take firm control of this semifinal. And Wales will be bitterly disappointed with the manner of the second. After a half-cleared cross, Ronaldo drilled a shot back into the danger zone and Nani was alert to stick out his boot eight yards from goal and divert it past Hennessey.
GOAL! Portugal 1-0 Wales (Ronaldo, 50)
The deadlock is finally broken, and its Ronaldo who does the damage. There's no surprise that it comes from a cross into the box, this time from Raphael Guerreiro after a short corner, that gives Ronaldo the chance to pull off a trademark physics-defying leap at the back post over Chester before crashing a header past Hennessey.
48 mins: Wales' three center-backs has the most touches of any players on the pitch in the first half, and the second 45 minutes has begun in the same vein, with slow-tempo passing along the backline. Will one team dare show more attacking enterprise before the semifinal goes to penalties?
Second Half kick off: Portugal get the match back underway with the semifinal in Lyon still goalless.
HALFTIME Portugal 0-0 Wales
It's the game many expected, with both teams happiest sitting behind the ball and looking for chances on the counter-attack. Portugal has had plenty of possession, and perhaps should have had a penalty early on when Collins grabbed a hold of Ronaldo, but it has been very one-paced from Santos' team. Wales has contained well and been more direct with the ball, posing an occasional threat on the break. But this has been far from a thrilling spectacle so far.
44 mins: Chance for Portugal. Adrien Silva cuts in on his right foot and delivers a fine cross to the far post, where Ronaldo had moved over to from the left. Up against James Chester, though, Ronaldo failed to keep his header down.
42 mins: Ronaldo has his first, and surely not his last, shot of the game, but it deflects off James Collins and flies behind for a corner that comes to nothing.
40 mins: Portugal has dominated possession in the last 10 minutes, but with Wales blocking off the center, Fernando Santos' team has been forced to either shhot from distance or put in early crosses. The crosses have certainly been the most threatening so far, but Wales have dealt with them well so far, other than the one that perhaps should have led to a penalty.
36 mins: Goal-mouth action has been few and far between so far. This is the closest we've come to a goal, courtesy of Bale's shot from a well-worked corner.
33 mins: Portugal again limited to shots from distance, this time its Adrien Silva who strikes from 20 yards, but it goes harmlessly wide of Wayne Hennessey's goal.
29 mins: Portugal continues to look the more composed team in possession, but Wales is holding it at bay fairly comfortably. The greater thrust in attack is coming from Wales, particularly when Bale gets on the ball. Still goalless, though.
25 mins: The movement of Wales' attackers is causing Portugal's defense real problems at the moment. Hal Robson-Kanu takes his turn moving wide and puts in a cross that was again being chased by the forward running King. Portugal managed to avert the danger once more.
23 mins: Again it's Bale to the fore, charging forward into space through the middle and getting it onto his favored left foot. From 25 yards out, it's a position from which he's so often found the back of the net, but this time his shot is straight at the grateful Rui Patricio. Still, that's exactly the type of counter-attacking chances Wales will be looking for.
21 mins: Wales have settled into the contest now, with Bale starting to exert his influence. The forward has now sped down the right flank and put in a dangerous low cross with his weaker foot, but Rui Patricio is just able to claim the ball before the onrushing Andy King.
19 mins: Gareth Bale gets involved for the first time in the final third, racing onto a through ball down the left and winning a corner off of Jose Fonte. The corner gets cleverly played back to Bale just inside the box, but Wales' star man can't fire his effort on target.
16 mins: Joao Mario has the first shot of the match, dragging wide from the edge of the box after some neat combination play from Portugal. It's Portugal that has been the better side so far, but, in truth, neither side has made any real inroads.
15 mins: It's been a frustrating first 15 minutes for Ronaldo, who has arguably been fouled twice, once in the penalty area, but failed to get the decision from the referee, and has now been cheaply dispossessed before seeing a pass in his direction well over hit.
12 mins: With Portugal sitting happily behind the ball, Wales has reverted to long balls forward, thus far without success. Not a great deal of quality on show in the early going.
10 mins: Cedric outs in a great cross from the right for Portugal and Ronaldo was eyeing it up in the box, but Collins, who had his arms round the neck of the Real Madrid man, gets in a crucial defensive header and avoids punishment.
8 mins: That's twice now that Joe Allen has been caught on the ball inside his own half. This time it costs him a booking after he commits a foul in an effort to atone for his error.
6 mins: Both teams, as expected, have begin conservatively, allowing its opponent to have possession in its own half. For Portugal, it's a midfield diamond, with Danilo deep, Renato Sanches on the right, Joao Mario on the left and Adrien Silva at the point.
3 mins: Cristiano Ronaldo has registered his first complaint of the evening after appearing to be fouled by Ashley Williams following a sloppy Wales turnover but failing to earn a free-kick.
2 mins: Joe Allen concedes an early free-kick for a foul on Raphael Guerreiro, who is back in the side after injury. For Wales, James Collins, in for Ben Davies, has gone to the right of the three center-backs, with James Chester switching to the left.
KICKOFF! Wales, like Portugal wearing its changed kit, get the first Euro 2016 semifinal underway.
2:55 p.m. EDT: Wales go first with the national anthems, with Ashley Williams leading the way in a rendition of "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau."
2:15 p.m. EDT: Pepe does indeed miss out for Portugal through injury, although it is Bruno Alves rather than Ricardo Carvalho who takes his place. As expected, Danilo replaces the suspended William Carvalho. For Wales, Andy King and James Collins replace suspended duo Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) July 6, 2016
Preview: Ahead of the two favorites to win Euro 2016, France and Germany, dueling it out on Thursday, Portugal and Wales will face off in Lyon for the right to take an unexpected place in Sunday’s final. The two sides arrived in France a month ago with limited expectations but are now just a step away from shot at taking home the Henri Delaunay trophy.
It is a position far more familiar to Portugal, which is in its fourth European Championship semifinal in the last five editions of the competition. Yet, when fueled by a great generation including Luis Figo, Rui Costa, a young Cristiano Ronaldo and others, Portugal failed to deliver upon expectations and lift a senior international crown.
Now the stars are in far more limited supply, with Ronaldo now having the weight of expectation to carry the team on his shoulders. Its run to the semifinals has been far from thrilling and instead built upon the solid organization instilled by coach Fernando Santos. After overcoming Croatia with a late goal in extra time, Portugal then squeezed past Poland in the quarterfinals.
Wales is known for a similarly cautious approach, but in the quarterfinals Chris Coleman’s side was able to bounce back from conceding an early goal to take the game to a more talented Belgium side and emerge deserved 3-1 winners. And Wales’ talisman, and Ronaldo’s teammate at Real Madrid, Gareth Bale, took a backseat as Hal Robson-Kanu stole the show with a sensational turn and finish for one of the goals of the tournament.
Bale’s supporting cast will be diminished in Wednesday’s semifinal, though, with Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies both suspended. Portugal has also been dealt a blow by yellow card accumulation, with William Carvalho ruled out. Pepe, meanwhile, is a doubt with a thigh injury.
Check back here from 3 p.m. EDT for video highlights and live score updates from the Euro 2016 semifinal.