Wales's Euro 2016 dream ended by Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo ends the fairytale – but Gareth Bale promises fans this is just the beginning
Portugal 2 Wales 0
Wales's odyssey is over after Portugal triumphed in Lyon on Wednesday to book their place in the final of the 2016 European Championships.
Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates now face either Germany or France in Paris on Sunday, while Wales return home after surpassing all expectations.
To make it out of the group stage as winners was an accomplishment, but to go on and reach their first semi-final of a major international tournament has put Welsh football on the map.
Ultimately, however, they weren't able to mount a serious challenge to Portugal, who were playing in their seventh semi-final.
Their greater experience showed as they dominated the match, with Ronaldo getting the better of his Real Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale.
It was Ronaldo - the first player to play in three Euro semi-finals (2004, 2012 and 2016) - who scored the opening goal, powering a header into the net on 50 minutes. Three minutes later he turned provider, his angled cross across the Wales area being turned home by Nani.
Wales missed the industry and invention of suspended midfielder Aaron Ramsey and never looked like getting back in the game after conceding the two quick goals. The closest the match came to adding to the scoreline was a fizzing free-kick from Ronaldo that went just over the bar. Even the raucous support of their fans couldn't lift Wales, who looked tired and out of ideas as the game wore on.
Nevertheless, the principal emotion on the night was one of pride, with Bale capturing the mood of the nation. "It's very disappointing to be so close to the final but we have to be proud," he said. "This is a proud moment for us, we have achieved a lot. We had pride and passion."
His comments were echoed by manager Chris Coleman, who told reporters: "It still hurts, the fact that we've lost the semi-final. Players are gutted, but that will subside.
"When they look back, they need to understand they have done their country proud. I'm proud of the players, the staff - the whole nation. The supporters have been brilliant every time.
"I know it's cost them a lot of money and I hope we've repaid that with some happy memories."
His Portuguese counterpart, Fernando Santos, was candid in his assessment of his squad, saying: "We're not the best team in the world".
However, he added: "Portugal always have a game-plan, an attacking and a defending game-plan… We try to study our opponents to avoid surprises and every opponent is different. Today, the game-plan worked."
Portugal's only other appearance in a major tournament final was the 2004 Euros, when they lost 1-0 to Greece. Asked about Sunday's encounter, Santos replied: "It will be the highest point in my career so far… I'll try to analyse our opponent. Like I said, we're in it to win it."
Bale and his team-mates will watch the game from their sofas, but the world hasn't heard the last of this Wales team, said the player.
"We've had a taste of it now and we look forward to the future," he declared. "We have confidence. We don't want to turn up to one tournament, it's about the bigger picture."
Wales can go on to greater things, says Coleman
Whatever the outcome of Wales's Euro 2016 semi-final clash against Portugal tonight, the past month has been a turning point in Welsh football, says manager Chris Coleman.
"People think the end of this tournament is the end of this journey, but it's not," he told journalists on Tuesday. "It's part of the journey.
"The experience this group of boys will get from this, they'll be here long after I'm here. This success is part of the learning process."
Qualification for the 2018 World Cup begins in the autumn and Wales's first match is against Austria, probably their toughest opponents in a group that also includes Serbia, Ireland, Moldova and Georgia.
Euro 2016 is only the second major tournament for which Wales have qualified - the 1958 World Cup being the first - and the Dragons have exceeded the expectations of even their most ardent supporters.
Asked if he had been pinching himself at what his side have achieved, Coleman said: "When I looked at the group we were in the tournament, I thought we were capable of getting out of the group.
"You never know who you'll get in the last 16 and then the quarter-final. I thought that was a possibility. I told the players that, that I genuinely believed we arrive at that stage.
"I didn't know what would happen after that, if I'm honest. But we've got a good team."
While Wales are appearing in their first semi-final, Portugal will be in the last four of a major tournament for the seventh time, although they have yet to progress to a final. Nevertheless, Cristiano Ronaldo and co are the bookmakers' favourites in Lyon, despite the fact their risk-free football in France has yet to earn them a win in the 90 minutes of normal time of any of their matches.
The Wales boss refused to be drawn into criticising Portugal's approach, either its negativity or the accusations of gamesmanship that have sometimes been levelled at the team.
"You call it gamesmanship, but sometimes it's being streetwise at this level," he said. "Sometimes it's not pretty, or even ugly, and you can see it as negative.
"But anything you need to do to stay in the game, do it. It's streetwise, football-smart. We've got a lot better at that in the last few years."
Wales 3 Belgium 1
Four days after England were humiliated by Iceland, Wales gave a masterclass in sporting heroism as they beat tournament favourites Belgium to book a place in the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
In an astonishing match that will be talked about for generations Wales came from a goal down to win 3-1 against the second-best team in the world and set up a game against Portugal in the last four.
Thre was little indication that this was to be one of the greatest nights in Welsh, if not British, sporting history when Radja Nainggolan gave Belgium the lead after 13 minutes. At that stage with Belgium dominant it looked as if it would be a long night for the Welsh. But Chris Coleman's team regrouped and when Ashley Williams was left unmarked to head home a corner it was no more than they deserved.
But the fireworks really began in the second half as Wales held firm against concerted Belgian pressure and then took the lead thanks to a remarkable goal from Hal Robson-Kanu, who collected a ball from Aaron Ramsey in the box, executed a Cruyff turn to wrong-foot three defenders and then fired past Thibaut Courtois.
It sent the Welsh fans into paroxysms of delight but would it be enough, with 35 minutes left to play? It appeared not as Belgium piled on the pressure, but the Welsh defence held firm, as chance after chance went begging. This was backs to the wall stuff against players of the calibre of Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku.
Then, five minutes from time, came the impossible moment that sealed an utterly brilliant victory. Chris Gunter broke down the right and, instead of heading for the corner flag as tradition dictates in those situations, crossed the ball.
It sailed into the box where sub Sam Vokes had timed his run to the near post perfectly, and his wonderful glancing header flew past Courtois to seal an seismic victory for Wales.
Even more remarkably the victory was achieved with relatively little input from Gareth Bale, who can now look forward to a semi-final showdown with Real Madrid club-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
The only downside from a Wales perspective was yellow cards to Ramsey and Ben Davies who will be forced to sit out the biggest match in their nation's football history. But those are concerns for another day. In the mean time Wales can revel in their stunning achievement.
Wales vs Belgium LIVE:
FULL TIME - WALES 3 BELGIUM 1: A result that will echo down the ages! Wales are in the semi-finals of Euro 2016. They have beaten Belgium 3-1. What an utterly extraordinary match!
Some players are in tears, others are laughing, some just look stunned. What an achievement. The Belgians look broken.
90 mins: Three minutes added time. Belgium are going through the motions, throwing combinations like a punch drink boxer. It's too late for them now. Wales have surely done it.
85 mins GOAL!! WALES 3 BELGIUM 1 Sam Vokes has done it!!! The substitute heads home a Chris Gunter cross. It was a brilliant near post header and surely Wales have done the impossible. This is unbelievable.
Why wans't Gunter going for the corner flag? It doesn't matter now. The Wales fans are going absolutely barmy.
84 mins: Nainggolan gos down in the box after a lovely flick from Fellaini, no dice from the ref, but replays show contact with Williams.
This is now a seige as Batshuayi replaces Lukaku and Wales half clear a corner. Bale tries to relieve the pressure but loses the ball as he charges into the Belgium half. And Belgium are back on the attack.
80 mins: Controversy as Lukaku goes down on the edge of the box under pressure from Davies, who is on a booking, but the ref waves play on. Then Witsel fires over.
Sam Vokes replaces Hal Robson-Kanu, who could become the most famous man in Wales if Belgium don't score.
Belgium are about to bring on Michy Batshuayi, the Chelsea-bound striker.
78 mins: Belgium have had their England moment and snapped out of it. They are banging on the door now, forcing Wales back and back and back. Fellaini and Alex Witsel have both had good chances but could not connect to balls in the box.
Joe Ledley comes off for Wales, he is replaced by Andy King as Chris Coleman tries to shore up his creaking defence.
75 mins: Wait a minute. Belgium are not done yet, Fellaini outjumps James Chester in the box to latch onto a great ball from Alderwiereld, but his powerful header flashes just wide. He should have buried that.
Dries Mertens comes on for Jordan Lukaku but there is heartbreak for Aaron Ramsey who is booked, and will miss the semi-final if Wales survive.
70 mins: It's just not happening for Belgium at the moment. Hazard breaks but ends up crabbing across the field as the Welsh defence regroups, then a cross from Jordan Lukaku to his brother Romelu is too high.
However, De Bruyne then gets behind the Welsh but James Chester cuts out his cross.
The Belgians are starting to look a bit like England did against Iceland. There is fear in their eyes and panic is setting in.
65 mins: Wayne Hennessey breathes a sigh of relief as a De Bruyne free kick from 25 yards, given for a foul on Nainggolan, gets over the wall but bounces harmlessly into his arms.
Wales come down the pitch and win a corner and Williams has another go at goal as the ball goes loose in the box. Whisper it, but Wales are the better team here.
60 mins: Belgium are rocking! Courtois fumbles a corner and Williams almost stabs home a third, but the keeper recovers. All the noise is coming from the Wales fans now. They are half an hour from the last four!
Do you think free agent Robson-Kanu, released by Reading at the end of last season, will be able to find a new club after the sensational goal he has just scored?
55 mins GOAL! Wales 2 Belgium1: Wales are ahead! Robson-Kanu strikes! Unbelievable goal from the striker, who produces a Cruyff turn in the box to outfox the entire Belgian defence, before he steadies himself to score. That is extraordinary.
He was set up by Aaron Ramsey who had made a great run down the right.
52 mins: Just as in the first half Belgium have started strongly. Not only has Lukaku headed wide, but De Bruyne has fired just over from 20 yards and Hazard just wide from the left of the box. Williams has also made a great defensive header to get to another cross ahead of Lukaku.
The Premier League big guns are flexing their muscle.
46 mins: We're underway again and Marouane Fellaini is on for Yannick Carrasco. Fellaini and Witsel have some impressive hair in the Belgian midfield.
And straight away there is a chance as Romelu Lukaku rises unmarked in the box to meet Meunier,'s cross, but his header goes wide.
HALF TIME: Wales showed steel and composure to recover from an early setback against Belgium and play their part in one of the best games of Euro 2016 so far.
Belgium took the lead after just 13 minutes when Radj Nainggolan's 30 yard strike flew into the top corner. Wales could not say they had not been warned, with Belgium squandering three chances in succession a few minutes earlier.
But despite falling behind Wales regrouped and scored a deserved equaliser when captain Ashley Williams headed home Aaron Ramsey's corner after half an hour. And Wales could have taken the lead after that, with Williams again unmarked at a corner and Hal Robson-Kanu heading at Courtois.
Gareth Bale, although influential, has not had a huge impact on the game, illustrating the point that Wales are much more than a one-man team. But they will fancy their chances of an upset if he takes control in the second period.
At the other end of the field, though, Belgium had chances and Carasco forced a save from Hennessey.
Who knows which way this will go in the second half.
45 mins: The half time whistle goes as Robson-Kanu tests Courtois with another header from a Ramsey cross. What an excellent half, and Wales fully deserve to be in this.
40 mins: Things have calmed down but the quality of football remains high as Land of my Fathers rings round the stadium. Belgium were on top for the first 20 minutes but Wales are right back in it now and it's nip and tuck as we approach half time.
Wales could be shading it slightly as they win another corner and Williams is free in the box again but heads over!
33 mins: This is some game now. Hennessey denies Carasco at one end before Bale goes on the charge at the other and forces a save from Courtois.
30 mins GOAL! Wales 1 Belgium 1: Captain Ashley Williams equalises for Wales! The Welsh win a corner and the Swansea man is unmarked in the middle to head home the delivery from Aaron Ramsey.
Turns out there are some Wales fans in Lille, and they have gone crazy! What a comeback from the Welsh.
27 mins: Chance! Thibaut Courtois produces a fantastic save to deny Neil Taylor, who stormed into the Belgium box and latched onto a pull back from Aaron Ramsey. He caught it true from 12 yards but the Chelsea keeper somehow kept it out.
Wales are still in this, although Chris Gunter has become the latest defender to be booked.
20 mins: Wales are trying to force their way back into the game but they are struggling to make an impression on a very well organised Belgium side.
And there is more for Wales to worry about apart from the scoreline as James Chester has also been booked, meaning that two of the three centre backs are already on a final warning.
13 mins: GOAL! Belgium 1 Wales 0. What a goal from Nainggolan! A stunning 30-yard strike gives Belgium the lead and the crowd go crazy. He was teed up by a lovely pass from Hazard and absolutely leathered it into the top corner past Hennessey, who nearly lost a hand as he tried to save it.
Wales have it all to do now.
10 mins: It's end to end stuff! There is a triple chance for Belgium which prompts some last gasp defending from Wales. Carasco collects a cross from Lukaku and is competely free in the box, but Hennessey makes a point blank save, De Bruyne's shot from the rebound is blocked by Taylor on the line and a third effort is deflected over.
Seat of the pants stuff for Wales, and Lukaku should do better from the corner at the far post.
At the other end Wales almost stun their opponents but Robson-Kanu can't get his effort on target. And Bale then charges the defence and hits the side netting with a powerful shot.
Quite a start to the game!
5 mins: It's been a positive start from Belgium, who are being roared on by their fans, with plenty of possession and positive intent. Wales are going to have to be on their mettle defensively tonight.
And Ben Davies is booked for blocking De Bruyne, he'd be out of the semi-final if they get that far. He will also be treading a tightrope for the next 85 minutes.
1 min: We're underway in Lille, and Belgium play some early keep-ball, passing it around their inexperienced back four, before fashioning their first attack of the match.
Anthems: It's absolutely tipping down in Lille, but the Welsh fans are in good voice for Land of my Fathers, although they are definitely in the minority in Lille.
Belgium face defensive crisis against Wales
It's the biggest game for Welsh football since 1958 with Gareth Bale and his team looking to make it to the semi finals of Euro 2016.
However, they will have their work cut out against Belgium in Lille, which is just ten miles from the border.
However, Wales took four points off Eden Hazard and co in qualifying so will not be intimidated by the second best side in the world.
Even better news for Wales is that Belgium will be without the injured Jan Vertonghen and the suspended Thomas Vermaelen. That means Jordan Lukaku, brother of Romelu, will start at left back, with Jason Denayer in the centre with Toby Alderweireld.
The Belgians still look strong going forward with Be Druyne, Hazard and Lukaku all fit.
For Wales Hal Robson-Kanu replaces Sam Vokes.
Wales: Hennessey, Gunter, Taylor, Davies, Chester, Williams, Allen, Robson-Kanu, Ramsey, Bale, Ledley
Belgium: Courtois, Meunier, Alderweireld, Denayer, J. Lukaku, Witsel, Nainggolan, De Bruyne, Carrasco, Hazard, R. Lukaku
Wales's game against Belgium is their biggest in 60 years
Wales face Belgium at Euro 2016 tonight in their biggest football match for 60 years.
Gareth Bale will once again be the focus of attention, but it's his team's collective ethic rather than his individual genius that has propelled them to the quarter-finals.
"While Bale is undoubtedly the star of the Wales show, he is more the lead character in an ensemble cast than the focus of the entire production," says JJ Bull of the Daily Telegraph.
By way of example, Bale is prepared to defend and will lead counter attacks from his own penalty area, unlike other superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who wait on the halfway line and let others do the dirty work.
Yet the Wales team is still built around him, says Bull. "Wales line up in a 5-3-1 formation as though playing with ten men – Bale is the extra man and this allows him positional freedom. It takes a clever player to know when to appear where, but Bale has it nailed down."
He and the rest of the Wales squad are enjoying themslves.
"England's players wilted under pressure at Euro 2016, their campaign culminating in a psychological meltdown as they fell to an excruciating defeat by Iceland," writes Oliver Kay of The Times. "Wales, by contrast, appear to be thriving on it – and none more than Bale, riding the wave with a confidence, a single-mindedness and an assurance that seems entirely at odds with Jamie Carragher's description this week of a generation of footballers who have had it 'too easy' and grown up 'too soft'."
The players are also spurred on by the memory of Gary Speed, the former Wales manager who died in 2011, says Ian Herbert of The Independent. Their "collective spirit" was "kindled in those dreadfully dark and difficult days".
The team has done him proud already, but their approach could see them go even further believes Casey Stoney in the Daily Telegraph.
"The Welsh players know they are heroes already, no matter what happens tonight," she writes. "For Belgium, that means they are the most dangerous opponents imaginable. In terms of quality, Belgium should win. Everyone knows it.
"And that is why I think Wales might well cause an upset – because they will feed on and exploit that knowledge, while playing with their own sense of fun and freedom."
Belgium have their own issues, agrees Craig Bellamy in the Times, who believes that while Wales are more than the sum of their parts, Belgium are less.
"At Euro 2016, Chris Coleman, of Wales, is rivalling Antonio Conte, of Italy, among the most successful coaches and I think Marc Wilmots has been the main reason why Belgium have yet to fulfil their massive potential. I have felt for some time that Belgium are a really good manager short of being the best team in the world.
"I have seen first-hand that Wilmots can seem confused by the options. I have been on the pitch against Belgium wondering why they look uncomfortable, lacking a pattern. Wales should be massive underdogs today but I think they go into this game with a real chance of forcing a draw, taking it into extra time. And the longer it goes on, the better I fancy Welsh chances."
Wales can win Euro 2016, says Gareth Bale, as Belgium await
Gareth Bale has been enjoying Euro 2016 and believes Wales can win their quarter final clash against Belgium on Friday and go on to win the entire tournament.
Belgium may be the second best side in the world, according to Fifa, but Bale believes that his Welsh side are their bogey team and when they met in qualifying they took four points off them.
At his fifth press conference in three weeks, Bale, who successfully wound up the English ahead of their group game (although it did not pay off), admitted: "Belgium will be favourites – we don't mind that because they have some top-quality players – but our target is to win the game. Hopefully we can go all the way and win the tournament.
"We are the last home nation still involved, and this is our chance to shine. We have a very good team too. We are not in the last eight for no reason."
He cut a relaxed figure, says Paul Wilson of The Guardian. "Despite England habitually making the tournament experience sound like something akin to exile on Elba, the Real Madrid player and his Wales team-mates insist there is nothing onerous about spending a few weeks away from home."
Manager Chris Coleman has discovered the "secret to keeping players in upbeat mood off the pitch while still getting the best from them on it, something England appear to have been casting around in the dark to uncover for over the last decade or so", adds Wilson.
Wales are one game away from "establishing themselves as the greatest team in their football history", notes Jeremy Wilson of the Daily Telegraph.
Bale cut a self-confident figure as he addressed the media. The Real Madrid player "was again adamant that winning Euro 2016 is realistic... and stressed that, unlike some of his team-mates, he would be keeping his diary clear until after the final on 10 July".
And Wales cannot be written off, says Gary Jacob in The Times. "Belgium's willingness to attack will suit Wales and Chris Coleman's side have nothing to lose, having done better than expected.
"An open-top parade has been pencilled in for their return to Cardiff, come what may. They hope it might be accompanied by a trophy, with the pathway to the final relatively kind."