Wales boss Chris Coleman has challenged Portugal to live up to the favourites’ tag in their Euro 2016 semi-final.
Coleman feels his players thrive as underdogs and they head to Lyon on the back of a superb 3-1 quarter-final victory over Belgium, the highest-ranked team in the tournament. Belgium, ranked second in the world, wilted under the expectation of taking their place in the last four, and Coleman is clearly hoping history repeats itself tomorrow.
“The bigger countries have got to get into quarter-finals, semi-finals, final,” said Coleman. “We didn’t. We had to come and perform for us, for inside our camp.
“Other countries who’ve been there before – the pressure is different for them.”
“We know Portugal are favourites, they have had tournament experience and played at World Cups, and we’ll go into it as underdogs,” added Coleman. “But that’s no problem at all.”
Although Coleman was quick to label Portugal as favourites, the form of the two teams during the Euros might suggests otherwise. Whereas Wales have won four of their five games in normal time – their only setback coming in a last-gasp 2-1 defeat to England at the group stage – Portugal have reached the semi-finals despite failing to win at all in 90 minutes. Portugal drew all three of their group games against Iceland, Austria and Hungary before beating Croatia in the last 16 with an extra-time winner.
They then set up their semi-final date with Wales by overcoming Poland on penalties.
However, Coleman insisted: “Their results tell me they are resilient. They have a strength that they can come through tough times in games where they have not dominated, but have still come through the test. They have not sneaked into a semi-final. It has taken them four or fives games to get here and that is not luck. You can’t sneak through.”
Both sides are without key players through suspension thanks to second yellow cards of the tournament collected at the last-eight stage.
Ben Davies and Aaron Ramsey are missing for Wales, while Portugal midfielder William Carvalho is also banned.
“They are two outstanding players,” Coleman said of the loss of defender Davies and midfielder Ramsey, who has been one of the players of the tournament with one goal and four assists. “But it’s not as if we haven’t been without them before and I have no worries about whoever steps in.
“I don’t worry about these players because they know the drill, what’s expected of them, and the game plan won’t change.”
Meanwhile, key defender Pepe, pictured, is also a doubt for Portugal, although Andre Gomes is confident Fernando Santos’ men have the weapons to triumph tomorrow. Real Madrid centre-back Pepe missed training yesterday with a thigh complaint, raising questions over his fitness for the semi-final, which Valencia midfielder Gomes says they approach confident in overcoming Gareth Bale and co.
“I know Gareth Bale from the Spanish league,” Gomes said. “I also played against British teams in the past, so I know their way to play, their style.
“They are very strong physically, they’ve got a very good team. But we will use our weapons the best way we can to beat them on Wednesday.”