Suspended Ben Davies had to watch as his country lost a tactical crossing battle, as it finished Portugal 2-0 Wales in Lyon.
Both teams had very similar tactical objectives, despite having differing formations. Each side wanted to drop off, counter attack, keep the opponent out of the middle and create chances through crossing. Fernando Santos’ men had more success in achieving these aims. His team scored twice from crossed balls in to the penalty area, as it finished Portugal 2-0 Wales.
Portugal went with their usual 4-1-3-2 formation and Wales in their 3-4-2-1 setup. Without the ball, both teams wanted to defend from the middle third and keep the ball in front of them. They also wanted to stop their opponent from getting numbers and good quality possession in the middle of the pitch.
Portugal went about his by having their front two of Ronaldo and Nani engaging Wales back three. The trio of Joao Mario, Adrien Silva and Renato Sanches behind them then stopped the passes in to Welsh playmaker Joe Allen and Joe Ledley alongside him.
Portugal interestingly would often use Ronaldo and Nani to close from wide to tempt Wales to pass up the centre, as shown above. They would then try and close on Allen and forced several turnovers. On one, Allen received a yellow card for fouling Nani to stop him getting away.
If Allen and Ledley were able to move higher up the pitch, Portugal would also close off the centre by going extremely narrow.
This was to force Wales wide in order to stop them gaining any kind of foothold in the centre from where Gareth Bale could shoot. Bale did get several shots away, but all were taken from outside the area. Only once did he give Rui Patricio trouble.
Wales had a similar objective. They too were content to drop off and engage at the middle third and also wanted to keep Portugal out of the middle of the park. They did it by use of a triangular formation. Hal Robson Kanu at the point with Gareth Bale and Andy King forming the points behind.
This slowed Portugal down and forced their build-up play to be slow and laboured in the early stages. Frequently they would have very few options and would look to send the ball long from back to front. Their target was Ronaldo to take advantage of his leaping ability, but he was getting no change out of the taller James Collins.
In for Ben Davies, Collins looked more than happy to take Ronaldo on in the air. The Portuguese man rarely tested him with his fleet feet across the turf, which would have seen the odds stacked more in his favour.
Tactical crossing battle
Both of these teams have been setup to cross in these Championships, so it seemed strange that they would be funnelling each other out to the flanks. Portugal’s full backs and Wales’ wingbacks took it in turns to force each other back depending on which side had the ball.
It created quite a crossing battle, as this is where the best chances came from.
In the first half it was Wales that enjoyed success. Bale’s cross just missed a sliding Andy King. Hal Robson-Kanu then sent in a delicious ball that saw King’s header flip up and away for a corner off Jose Fonte.
Portugal were having less success in the opening stanza. Cristiano Ronaldo was frequently the target of their crosses, but he was struggling to get to grips with the physical attentions of James Collins. The West Ham man was either able to head clear or grapple with Ronaldo enough to keep him grounded and complaining to the referee.
After not getting near several crosses due to Collins, Ronaldo got matched up on the smaller James Chester to nod just wide. This matchup would be the clue to unlocking the door.
Portugal cross to boss
Portugal had rarely troubled Wayne Hennessey in Wales’ goal. That would change just after the interval as Ronaldo struck to put them 1-0 up.
The passage of play started with a free kick. This was awarded to Nani after he was fouled when being surrounded by three Welsh players as they tried to keep him out of the centre of the pitch.
The free kick was chipped in and Andy King cleared for a corner. It was sent short to Raphael Guerreiro who swung in a peach of a cross.
Ronaldo, who was again picked up by the smaller James Chester, lost his marker with a neat darting move. He rose way above the smaller West Brom man and powered his header in to the net past a helpless Hennessey, 1-0.
One soon became two and it came from another Raphael Guerreiro cross. The full back motored forward to join the attack and swung in another good quality ball.
This time James Chester was able to get his head on it, but could only partially clear it to Ronaldo. A sliding Nani turned his tame shot towards goal in to the back of the net. It was Portugal 2-0 Wales with two goals from two Raphael Guerreiro crosses.
Two down and under pressure, Chris Coleman reacted by using his bench. The Welsh manager has been excellent at his changes in these Championships, swinging games against Slovakia and Northern Ireland.
His switches have usually given his side another dimension. This has helped them attack a weak area in the opposition’s defence. Here he panicked and made all three substitutions within eight minutes without allowing time to let each of his changes have a true effect. With 25 minutes still remaining on the clock, Coleman was out of further ammunition.
Sam Vokes coming on was an initial good move. Wales were creating from crosses, something Vokes thrives on. However, in making two more changes so swiftly afterwards, Coleman affected the dynamic of his team way too much. Portugal were allowed space to counter attack with Welsh players sacrificed from midfield and the back line.
Whereas Wales had previously been keeping Portugal out of the middle of the pitch, there was now room to attack through here. Nani raced forward and saw his shot palmed out straight to Joao Mario, who should’ve added a third. Renato Sanches tore through the vacant space and unleashed a shot that just went over. Ronaldo then had his chance, as a breakaway saw him round the keeper only to find the side netting.
Rather than Wales getting stronger from their substitutions and gaining the ascendancy, the pendulum swung more towards Portugal.
Time ran out with the score Portugal 2-0 Wales and Fernando Santos side were heading to the Euro 2016 Final.
Portugal 2-0 Wales overall
Wales have been excellent at these European Championships, but the loss of Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies hurt the side here. Ramsey has created two goals and many chances from his ability to ghost in to wide areas and cross. Wales missed that accuracy of delivery here.
Wales also learnt the lesson of fine margins. James Collins was handling Ronaldo in the air as Portugal continued to look for him with high balls. It was a different story when Ronaldo was matched up on James Chester. Maybe Collins should’ve been on Ronaldo at set pieces rather than tracking Jose Fonte?
Portugal are a side that like to bring the opposition down to their level. In the Euro 2016 Final on Sunday, their opponent best beware of this happening to them.
Final score: Portugal 2-0 Wales.