Portugal get menacing Cristiano Ronaldo they needed, as Wales simply needed more Gareth Bales

Ian Hawkey offers his takeaways on Portugal's Euro 2016 semi-final victory over Wales, which saw a Cristiano Ronaldo who has been subdued at times this tournament at his determined best.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates at the end of his team's Euro 2016 semi-final victory over Wales on Wednesday night. Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters / July 6, 2016
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It was never going to be just, as Gareth Bale kept insisting, about he versus Cristiano Ronaldo.

But chances were, if there was to be a single match-winner, an ice-breaker, in Wales against Portugal, it was likely to be one of the two superstars.

Wales' best attempts at goal, as they reached for the improbable dream of a place in the Euro 2016 final, came from Bale, but the best of those were too late, with too tall a mountain left to climb. And Wales' best attempts at goal were few and not too threatening.

Ronaldo’s Portugal deserve their place at Saint-Denis on Sunday, to take on France or Germany in the final and aim for a first major international title for a country who have been close before.

It will be, perhaps, their penultimate chance to achieve the sort of prize while their nation’s greatest ever player is still near his peak.

More Portugal

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• In pictures: Cristiano Ronaldo, with help from Nani, wins Real Madrid battle over Gareth Bale

Cristiano Ronaldo, 31, scored the goal, the first in a 2-0 win in their semi-final against Wales, that guided Portugal to the final, putting behind him the doubts that rose up during a tournament that has not always seen him at his best. For a split-second, for his brilliant soaring header to score just after half-time, it glimpsed vintage CR7, and he was charged up enough in the moments after the goal to help set up the second.

Wales may be novices in this environment, but they did not play like that, even as the second-best team in Lyon. The vigilance this mature, self-aware Wales applied to Ronaldo was generally high. Sometimes it was close to the edge of legality.

The Portugal skipper had on his much-practised face of outrage early in the contest after falling to the ground after he was the target of a cross. James Collins had been his marker in the jostling, and Ronaldo’s gripe was that Collins had an arm wrapped about the striker’s shoulders.

Moments later, it was the attentions of James Chester that bothered him. Chester had taken no risks, though. Ronaldo’s mood had darkened before the 15th minute, and when Chester, again tight to his man as Ronaldo sought to put himself in the best position to meet an Adrien Silva centre, caused sufficient nuisance to prevent Ronaldo getting the right height and angle on his header, it meant Ronaldo was destined to go in at half-time frustrated.

Goals, and menace, have been intermittent from Ronaldo during much of Euro 2016.

He was not fully fit at the end of the league season, a long one, which carried on all the way to the Champions League final, which he won with Real Madrid, and an ultimately frustrating but neck-and-neck chase for the La Liga title.

But give him the right cross, and the chance to fly at it, with the full, elastic spring of those powerful thighs, and he is lethal with his forehead.

Four minutes after the half-time break, Chester gave him too much room, Raphael Guerreiro gave him a wonderful, slightly curling cross from close to the corner flag, and, boom, Portugal were ahead.

Three minutes later, Wales were in the deepest valley despair of what has been a magical month in France for them. The Ronaldo header, majestically converted, had left Wales indignant because they felt the corner from which Guerreiro, receiving the ball short, had crossed, was preceded by a foul on one of their men.

The next goal, from Nani, left them feel doubly wronged. They sensed that Renato Sanches may have been offside when Nani diverted a long-range Ronaldo drive past Wayne Hennessey. They were entitled to feel unlucky even without the offside suspicion. Hennessey had Ronaldo’s shot covered. The Nani intervention, instinctive, changed the angle haphazardly.

An untidy goal, in a way, but Portugal had earned their luck.

They had pushed forward, their tails up. Ronaldo was buoyant. He later struck a direct free-kick that arched just over Hennessey’s crossbar.

Chances were mounting as Wales were obliged to tilt the balance of their side, three attacking players, Simon Church, Sam Vokes and Jonny Williams brought on. The sacrifice was to their well-organised defensive shape. Danilo was permitted a surge from deep midfield to plant a shot that Hennessey struggled to keep from crossing the Wales goal-line.

If Wales were to stage an improbable comeback, it would not, most likely, be inspired by the likes of Church, Vokes or the diminutive Jonny Williams.

It would have to be Bale. The Madrid man did his best, two firm shots from distance pouched by Rui Patricio in the Portugal goal.

In truth, Wales needed a Bale up front, plus a Bale supplying passes from midfield and another Bale streaking down the flanks to make up the deficit.

And they only have one man of his stature, for all their big hearts and wise heads.

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