Quarter-finals sum up
Wales’ phenomenal victory over Belgium was arguably the highlight of the tournament so far, and indeed the quality of their team performance has led many to tip them to lift the trophy in Paris. They should certainly be capable of defeating a Portugal team that, once again, looked very unconvincing.
Cristiano Ronaldo continues to glitch at Euro 2016, turning and shooting over and over again with the jaded repetition of a man bereft of confidence; he is lucky to remain in the competition and must beat his Real Madrid team-mate, if he is to leave a lasting legacy on the international stage.
Elsewhere, France’s 5-2 victory over Iceland was arguably their first fluid and cohesive team performance of the tournament. They have finally become unshackled and will face Germany without the nerves that have caged them for the best part of the last month. Joachim Lowe’s side were not exceptional in beating Italy, but there was a familiar sense of grinding ruthlessness in their display. In short, both semi-final ties are wide open.
Portugal v Wales
The obvious narrative here is impossible to avoid. For three years Gareth Bale has operated in the shadow of Portugal’s superstar, looking constrained and uncomfortable on the fringes of the Real Madrid team and restricted to a side-role from the wings when - as his time at Spurs and recent form in a Wales shirt would suggest - he is far more effective as the centre of attention.
Ronaldo versus Bale is a straight fight on Wednesday between two players given unprecedented freedom by their respective managers. It is difficult to recall another match this century in which two star players were allowed to drift across the front line in any way they please. The victor here cannot hide behind their manager’s tactical choices or the performances of their team-mates. Expect Bale, the more composed of the two, to ultimately come out on top.
Over two goals: 1.990*
Ronaldo vs Bale is a straight fight on Wednesday between two players given unprecedented freedom by their managers. Expect Bale, the more composed of the two, to ultimately come out on top.
Wales’ 3-5-2 formation has clicked magnificently at this tournament, and their fans will be buoyed by the prospect of facing a nation so similar to Belgium. Portugal have several star players in their starting eleven but consistently look disjointed and slow. If they sit back and absorb pressure as they did against Belgium, Wales should easily nullify Ronaldo and company whilst exposing some obvious flaws at the back. Pepe aside, Portugal have looked shaky all tournament.
The loss of Aaron Ramsey will hit Wales hard. Andy King and Jonathan Williams are both talented players and will perform with intelligence and integrity, but it was Ramsey’s exceptional passing range and buzzing movement that carved Belgium apart last week. He made more passes (53) and key passes (six) than any other Wales player.
What’s more, Joao Moutinho will most likely control possession with more authority as a result of Ramsey’s absence. The Arsenal midfielder has averaged 2.4 tackles per game, harassing the deep-lying midfielders with a tireless energy that clearly galvanised his team-mates.
Nevertheless, there appears to be a greater desire and collective cohesion in this Wales squad - whilst Portugal have huffed and puffed throughout June. Coleman’s side should be able to stunt their tepid attacks and counter effectively in the gaps left by Portugal’s defensively weak central midfield.
Wales handicap 0 and +0.5 : 2.08*
Germany v France
It felt unjust that such a simple, brutal act as a penalty shoot-out should decide the thoughtful tactical battle between Germany and Italy, and in truth neither side deserved to go home after such an intelligent performance. The Germans can expect a more straightforward game on Thursday.
Lowe is an excellent tactician that looks to expose any weaknesses in the opposition (as he proved against Italy, when he reverted to a mirroring 3-5-2 that restricted the counter-attacking menace of the Italians). As such, he will most likely target France’s ageing full-backs Backary Sagna, 33, and Patrice Evra, 35. Julian Draxler will be a vital outlet on the left flank, and should focus largely on sticking to his touchline and attacking Sagna directly.
Lowe is excellent at exposing the opposition’s weakness, as he proved when he reverted to a mirroring 3-5-2 that restricted the counter-attacking menace of the Italians.
Germany have struggled to attack with purpose this tournament largely because Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil have drifted in and out of games, and thus on Thursday Lowe should be brave and drop one of them in favour of another out-and-out winger – Andre Schurrle. However, he is unlikely to do this; having built momentum with their rout of Iceland.
France to advance to the final: 1.909*
Injuries and suspensions could hand France the advantage. Mats Hummels’ suspension hands Olivier Giroud a slight advantage, whilst both Sami Khedira and Bastain Schweinsteiger are doubts following groin and knee injuries respectively.
Emre Can is not adept at controlling the tempo of matches and certainly cannot move with the same vertical energy as Schweinsteiger, which could allow Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi to dominate the midfield battle. In Dimitri Payet, France possess the tournament’s best player; they should be able to score against a weakened Germany team.
Over two goals : 1.877*
*Odds subject to change
See the latest Euro 2016 odds, including clean sheet wins, method of victory, individual players to score, handicap markets and much more under the left-hand side menu Bet Options/Specials!
See the latest Euro 2016 odds, including clean sheet wins, method of victory, individual players to score, handicap markets and much more under the left-hand side menu Specials!