The first of Euro 2016’s semi-finals kicks off tonight, with Wales taking on Portugal in Lyon’s Stade des Lumières. The tournament action continues on Thursday, at the Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, with France facing off against Germany.
So how smooth have the semi-finalists’ journeys been so far and which teams are most likely to make it through to fight for the Henri Delaunay Trophy?
Portugal vs. Wales – Will the Dragons’ Fiery Passion to Succeed See Them Through?
Chris Coleman, the Welsh manager, was realistic about his team’s status as potential tournament-winners when he spoke to the press about the forthcoming match. “We know Portugal are favourites, they have had tournament experience and played at World Cups, and we’ll go into it as underdogs”, he told Eurosport.
The Portuguese have never actually won the UEFA European Championship, although they have made it into the final once, in 2004, when they lost to Greece by 1 – 0. So could this be the year they clinch what’s surely one of the most sought-after football trophies in the world?
Fernando Santos’s team’s performance at this year’s tournament has been patchy. They scraped through into the knockout stages, finishing third in Group F, after drawing 1 – 1 with Iceland, 0 – 0 with Austria and 3 – 3 with Hungary. They picked up pace when they reached the last sixteen, however, beating Croatia by 1 – 0 to secure themselves a quarter-final tie against Poland. Things looked bleak for them when Robert Lewandowski scored after just two minutes, but Sanches put them back on equal terms. The Portuguese triumphed on penalties in the end.
Wales, on the other hand, have looked spectacular as they’ve progressed through their first major tournament since 1958. They topped Group B, after beating Slovakia (2 -1), losing to England (1 – 2) and trouncing Russia (3 – 0). The Dragons continued their terrific tournament run by ending Northern Ireland’s trophy-winning dreams, beating them by 1 – 0. In the quarter-finals, they defeated one of the emerging favourites, Belgium, by 3 -1, making this their most successful ever tournament.
So could they destroy Portugal’s title hopes? Unfortunately, they’ll be missing one of their key players, Aaron Ramsey, as he picked up his second yellow card of Euro 2016 in the match against Belgium, but they certainly have enough desire and talent to drive them on.
France vs. Germany – Can the Germans Triumph on French Turf?
The battle for the second Euro 2016 final place is sure to be a fiercely fought one too. Featuring two of the biggest pre-tournament favourites, France and Germany, it’s tough to work out which team has the edge.
The French have the home advantage and they played some impressive-looking football in the earlier rounds. They beat Romania (2 – 1) and Albania (2 – 0), then drew with Switzerland (0 – 0), to finish in first place in Group A. They then defeated the Republic of Ireland by 2 – 1 in the Round of Sixteen. An outstanding performance at the start of their quarter-final tie with Iceland, who had shone so brightly against a lacklustre England in the previous round, put them 4 – 0 up at half-time. Despite a valiant attempt at fighting back by the Icelandic players, the final score was 5 -2 in France’s favour.
Three-time tournament champions Germany also went through to the knockout stages as winners of their group, having defeated Ukraine (2 – 0), drawn with Poland (0 – 0) and beaten Northern Ireland (1 – 0).
A 3 – 0 win against Slovakia took them into the quarter-finals to face Italy in a match which became a true test of their resolve. The teams were level on a goal apiece after extra time, leading to a tense penalty shootout. The Germans were victorious eventually but only after three players, Muller, Ozil and Schweinsteiger, had failed to put the ball in the back of the net, in a performance uncharacteristic of the team.
Based on past performances, Portugal and Germany would be most likely to progress. The home team’s form, however, means that they could triumph, at which point they’d be favourites for the win. Likewise, on paper, Wales were lucky even to have made it through the tournament’s qualifying stages, so they could still be set for a historic victory.
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