Cristiano Ronaldo was instrumental as Portugal reached the Euro 2016 final, ending Wales’ incredible run with a 2-0 win in Lyon.
The pre-match talk had centred on Ronaldo’s showdown with Real Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale and it was the Portuguese who shone as his side took another step towards assuaging the pain of their defeat in the 2004 final.
Ronaldo leapt imperiously to head in a 50th-minute opener – equalling Michel Platini’s record of nine goals at European Championships – and had the shot that Nani steered home to extend Portugal’s advantage just three minutes later.
That quickfire double brought to life a semi-final that had until then been a largely cagey affair, with Bale having marginally the better of the first-half head-to-head against his club colleague.
Indeed, Chris Coleman’s side will have been content with their efforts in the opening 45 minutes, Bale steering one shot over and another on target.
Portugal – who reached the last four without winning a game in normal time – had few openings of note, though Joao Mario might have done better with a low strike on the angle.
Yet within eight minutes of the restart their place in the Paris final was practically assured, with hosts France or world champions Germany now standing between a first major international honour for Ronaldo.
Wales – 3-1 winners over Belgium last time out – had Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies missing through suspension, with William Carvalho suffering the same fate for Portugal, who had to make do without the injured Pepe (thigh).
Ashley Williams made a timely intervention to thwart Ronaldo early on after Wales had sloppily conceded possession just inside their own half.
But it was a nervy start at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Mario dragging a shot wide of the mark in the 16th minute to punctuate what was otherwise a tactical midfield battle.
A well-worked Wales corner ended with Bale firing over the crossbar after he cleverly manoeuvred into space and the world’s most expensive player brought a routine save from Rui Patricio following a lung-bursting run.
That proved to be the only first-half shot on target, with Ronaldo heading wide at the far post as a tense opening period drew to a close.
He was not so wayward at the start of the second half, though, climbing high to power home a header from Raphael Guerreiro’s pinpoint cross.
And he was pivotal in the second goal for Fernando Santos’ side, though he would be hard-pressed to claim an intentional assist for Nani, who slid in to divert Ronaldo’s shot beyond the wrong-footed Wayne Hennessey.
Ronaldo struck a dipping free-kick over in the 63rd minute and Hennessey was fortunate to see Mario shoot wide after the goalkeeper had fumbled the ball into his path.
Having lost three European Championship semi-finals, perennial nearly-men Portugal were determined to hold on to their advantage and a beleaguered Wales scarcely applied pressure in the closing 20 minutes.
Danilo almost made it three late on, with Hennessey barely keeping out his close-range effort, as Portugal set up a golden opportunity to banish the memories of their shock loss to Greece 12 years ago, which left a teenage Ronaldo in tears.
Key Opta stats:
– Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to play in three EURO semi-finals (also in 2004 and 2012).
– Ronaldo appeared in his 20th Euro finals game, three more than any other player (Buffon and Schweinsteiger on 17).
– Five of Ronaldo’s nine Euro finals goals have been headers.
– Nani has netted three goals in his last six games for Portugal.
– Since the start of 2015, Wales have failed to win any of their four games without Aaron Ramsey (D1 L3).