Lyon (AFP) – Thousands of Portugal and Wales fans poured into the French city of Lyon on Wednesday to see Real Madrid teammates Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale go head to head in the Euro 2016 semi-final between the countries.
For Ronaldo, 31, the match is the latest stage of his battle to get a first trophy at a major international tournament.
For Wales, led by 26-year-old Bale, it will be the biggest game in the principality’s history. Wales have never reached the last four of a major tournament before.
The winners of the game, which starts at 1900 GMT, will play hosts France or world champions Germany in Sunday’s final in Paris.
Portuguese and Welsh fans packed Lyon bars and cafes ahead of the game. Many do not have tickets for the 50,000 capacity Stade de Lyon.
“Just to be here, and to experience this, is something we will all never forget,” Rob Santwris from Newport told AFP.
With France still on a terrorist alert after the November attacks in Paris, authorities said security would be reinforced around the stadium and the fan zone where the game will be shown on a giant screen.
There was also mounting football fever in Portugal and Wales. Fans waving Portugal flags drove around the capital Lisbon.
In Cardiff, the final 7,500 tickets for a 27,500 fan zone screen in the Principality Stadium were taken in 30 minutes on Wednesday morning.
– Injuries and suspensions –
On the pitch, all the focus will be on Bale and Ronaldo whose relationship at Real Madrid has been testy. The pair have not spoken since the tournament began, according to Bale.
Some see the match as a playoff for who will get the Ballon d’Or for the world player of the year.
Bale, with his blistering pace, has scored three times and been his country’s inspirational leader in the country’s first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.
Ronaldo, has had most shots of any player at Euro 2016, but been irritable and scored just twice. Portugal have reached the last four without winning a game in 90 minutes of regulation time.
Coaches Chris Coleman of Wales and Fernando Santos of Portugal have sought to avoid questions about their star players.
“We are not playing for the Ballon d’Or, we are playing to be in the final. That is more important for the team,” said Santos ahead of the final.
Coleman said Ronaldo’s brilliant football mind is easy for all to see.
“You see that on the pitch, how motivated he is for himself to score and win. I think ever since he was young at Man United he had that desire to train harder than everyone to get better,” said the Wales coach.
Coleman will be without Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, who is suspended for Wednesday’s game.
Santos faces a tough decision on another Real Madrid player, veteran defender Pepe who has been struggling with a muscle injury since the penalty shootout win over Poland in the quarter-finals.
The Portuguese boss said he would only make a decision on match day.
“If he is 100 percent he will be in the starting XI for tomorrow.”
But with tired legs on both sides, Santos warned that he does not care if the semi-final is another battle of attrition.
“Now no player can be 100 percent. They have had a long, demanding, physical season,” he said.
The Portuguese coach has made no excuses for the way his side has claimed their place in the semi-finals.
“Would I like us to be pretty? Yes,” said Santos after the quarter-final win. “But in between being pretty and being at home, or ugly and being here, I prefer to be ugly.”
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