Mike Holden thinks the Wales fairy tale could come to an end against Portugal on Wednesday.
Portugal v Wales - Wednesday 20:00, ITV1
Emotional fuel is almost everything when you reach the latter stages of a major tournament, and pedigree matters more than the betting markets let on. Five or six days might be ample time for a team to recover physically from their exertions in the last outing, but how long does it take mentally? For a nation breaking new ground like Wales, the turnaround is seldom long enough.
Trawl back through semi-finals involving European teams over the last 40 years and you won’t find too many where the nation of lesser historical significance has prevailed. Czech Republic beating France on penalties at Euro 1996, perhaps. Greece beating the Czech Republic in extra time at Euro 2004. Beyond that, you’re struggling.
Over the same period, Poland (1982), Belgium (1986), Sweden (1992, 1994), Bulgaria (1994), Croatia (1998) South Korea (2002), Turkey (2002, 2008), Russia (2008) and Uruguay (2010) have all been beaten inside 90 minutes. In the modern era, the only example of a team landing odds of bigger than 2/1 inside the 90 is Italy’s win over Germany in Warsaw four years ago.
For Portugal, this will be a fifth semi-final appearance at a major tournament since the turn of the century, during which time (four World Cups, four Euros) their progress has been scuppered by the eventual winners five times and the runners-up twice. So they certainly belong in the second bracket of global superpowers and this occasion is nothing out of the ordinary.
The historical context matters because the sample of evidence provided over the past four weeks is too small for any depth of analysis and we’ve already seen developing themes busted by the next exhibit: Croatia and Belgium both went out after landmark performances, while Iceland were evidently running on empty following their glorious triumph over England.
Portugal’s progress, by contrast, has been reassuringly low key. The Seleccao have yet to win a game inside 90 minutes, at no other tournament in the past 20 years would they have escaped the group with three points and a zero goal difference. But here they are - underwhelming, unruffled and ready - yet averaging seven shots more per game than Wales and conceding three fewer.
Both teams have one key absentee for this clash. Portugal are likely to cope better without William Carvalho than Wales might without Aaron Ramsey. Ultimately, though, this about the emotional exertions of the last outing. Wales played the game of their lives against Belgium, whereas Portugal are repeatedly doing just enough and should have plenty in the tank.
The Draw/Portugal half-time/full-time outcome at 17/4 and the Portugal 1-0 correct score at 11/2 are two bets that best reflect how this game seems most likely to unfold, although those who prefer lumpy singles should not shy away from the 5/4 available on Fernando Santos’ men to get the job by any means possible inside 90 minutes.