Portugal vs. Wales preview: Euro 2016 semi-final pits experience against first-timers

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We’re down to the last four at Euro 2016. Wales and Portugal vie for a spot in the July 10 final at the Stade de France on Wednesday, and then its France and Germany for the same prize on Thursday. Here’s the preview and prediction for Tuesday’s match:

Wales vs. Portugal

Bill it as Cristiano Ronaldo against Gareth Bale if you want, but there’s plenty more to the story of Wales against Portugal than the two Real Madrid superstars.

Portugal has arrived at this stage of the competition, somehow, without winning a single game in normal time. They drew all three of their Group Stage games, progressing in the knockout stages with a late goal in extra time against Croatia and then on penalties against Poland.

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Wales, meanwhile, have won four of the five games they’ve played, with their last performance – a stirring 3-1 knockout of heavily favored Belgium in the quarterfinal – serving as a sort of magnum opus.

It’s not unclear which side the neutrals will be supporting. With Iceland’s elimination, Wales are the tournament’s darlings – buoyed by a remarkable team spirit and positive approach.

Fernando Santos, meanwhile, has drained a decent Portugal team of any semblance of creativity or ambition. His team has been unwatchable, playing a style that would make even Greece – Santos’ former employer – blush. We’ve been waiting for another gear from Portugal, but it’s beginning to look like they don’t have one.

Still, Portugal have gotten lucky throughout the tournament – and UEFA’s ridiculous yellow card accumulation rules have done them another favor in suspending Wales center back Ben Davies, and, crucially, creative midfielder Aaron Ramsey.

Ramsey is a massive loss. With him in the team, Wales would have been favorites in this game. Without him, though, they’re right where they want to be: Underdogs with nothing to lose.

If they knock out Portugal, they’d be doing us all a favor. 

Prediction: Wales

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