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Welsh fairytale ends as Cristiano Ronaldo takes Portugal to Euro 2016 final

Gareth Bale had made the point that Wales’s historic run to the Euro 2016 semi-final had somehow not felt real. “In a way it doesn’t,” he said earlier in the week. As the madness swirled on the outside and the national fervour pulsed back at home, they had gone game by game, living inside their bubble.
This was the night when it popped, when the brutal reality intervened and when Cristiano Ronaldo decided it was time he made a grand statement at this championship. There had been the fear among the Wales support that, after some erratic performances, Ronaldo was surely due to step up. He scored the opening goal with a punishing header and set up the second for Nani. He might even have had more. It was the performance of a champion.
Portugal have known plenty of pain in major semi-finals; they had previously lost five of their six across this tournament and the World Cup. But the pain belonged to Wales here. Despite Bale’s non-stop endeavours, they struggled sorely to create too much of clear-cut note. The suspended midfielder, Aaron Ramsey, was missed.
The talk in the build-up had been about the Wales story; about how Denmark and Greece had defied the odds to lift this trophy. Leicester City, with their Premier League title, have helped to make this the year when the little guy has shouted loudly. Could Wales follow suit?
Ronaldo made sure that the established order prevailed. His was a captain’s effort; he drove at Wales from the first whistle and he bristled with menace. There has been the suspicion that Ronaldo has not been fully fit and, apart from his two-goal showing in the fin
al group game against Hungary, he had misfired – but not here.
He had advertised his aerial threat and he made it count for the goal that broke the deadlock. His spring and hang-time laid the groundwork, following a short-corner routine and Raphaël Guerreiro’s out-swinging delivery, and his power and timing made the difference. James Chester, his one-time Manchester United team-mate, was unable to check him. Wayne Hennessey watched the ball fizz past him.
Ronaldo was at the heart of the second goal, too – the one that extinguished Welsh hope. He aimed a low shot for the far corner and Hennessey was moving in that direction when Nani slid in to divert the ball into the middle of the net.
Sphamandla Ntshokotsha

Sphamandla Ntshokotsha

Staff writter

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