Euro 2016: How Wales can beat Portugal and reach final - Dean Saunders

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Euro 2016: Watch all of Wales' goals
Portugal v Wales
Date: Wednesday, 6 July Venue: Stade de Lyon, Lyon Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and text commentary online & on BBC Sport app

Even when Aaron Ramsey has been in the team, Wales have struggled to break down defensive-minded teams who are not as good as Portugal - Israel at home in the qualifiers and Northern Ireland in the last 16 are two examples of that.

Ramsey, our most creative player at Euro 2016, is suspended for Wednesday's semi-final but, in any case, our next opponents would not give him room to play the way that Belgium did in the quarter-finals.

Belgium's approach suited us because, as I expected, we were able to use Ramsey or Gareth Bale to get at them down their left when they did not get men back quickly from attacks.

Portugal, in contrast, are a safety-first team who will keep their shape far better. Rather than there being lots of chances for both teams like there were in Lille, this will be a game of few opportunities.

Most chances created at Euro 2016
Along with Belgium's Eden Hazard, Ramsey has the most assists at Euro 2016, with four. Gareth Bale officially has none but his pass released Neil Taylor to score at the second attempt against Russia and it was his cross that Gareth McAuley put into his own net for the winner against Northern Ireland - neither count as an assist. After Ramsey, Taylor has created the next most chances for Wales, with nine

Wales are on the crest of a wave after what we have achieved in France so far, but this is a totally different test.

Portugal are yet to win a game in 90 minutes at this tournament and, although I am backing Wales to win, I have a feeling this one will go to extra time too.

First things first - Keep 11 players on the pitch

Wayne Rooney was sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho when England played Portugal at the 2006 World Cup
Cristiano Ronaldo was famously pictured winking at the Portugal bench after intervening after Wayne Rooney had appeared to stamp on Ricardo Carvalho when England played Portugal at the 2006 World Cup. Rooney was sent off, and England lost on penalties

This situation is obviously all new to Wales but Portugal have got plenty of experience of being in the latter stages of a major finals before.

Seven of the 15 players who featured in their quarter-final win over Poland were in their squad that reached the semi-finals at Euro 2012 and their manager Fernando Santos took Greece to the knockout rounds at that tournament and the 2014 World Cup.

First and foremost, Santos sets them up not to be beaten and they have some seasoned players on this stage, who will be looking for any advantage they can get in a knockout tie. In a close match, that includes changing the course of the game with a red card.

It is a viable way of winning for them so we need to ignore any attempts to influence the referee by Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, or anyone else, and be very careful with our tackling too.

That was something I was worried about against Belgium, when we had three players booked for challenges inside the first 25 minutes, but I am sure none of our players will do anything daft.

It is the kind of game where a Wales red card would tip things in Portugal's favour, and they will be fully aware of that.

Stay in shape and be defensively sound

Ronaldo (l) and Nani (r)
Along with France target man Olivier Giroud, Nani has had more headers at goal (10) than any other player at Euro 2016, but both his goals have come from shots. Cristiano Ronaldo is ranked joint sixth, with five headed efforts, and has scored with one of them

With Ronaldo and Nani up front, Portugal do not play with a specialist striker - both of them are wingers who roam right across the pitch.

They both look to get into the area to get on the end of balls into the box, with Nani often coming in from the right and Ronaldo off the left.

Between them, Wales' right wing-back Chris Gunter, right-sided centre-back James Chester and our two defensive midfielders, Joe Allen and Joe Ledley, kept Eden Hazard quiet when he looked to do something similar for Belgium, although that was usually when he was on the ball.

Ronaldo, with his aerial ability, offers a slightly different threat but the key to stopping him will be the same - tracking his movement and passing him over to a team-mate when he comes inside - particularly to stop him finding space with late runs into the area. It will be the same with Nani on the opposite flank.

Portugal crosses vs Croatia and Poland
Portugal have attempted more crosses per game from open play (24.6) than any other team at Euro 2016 but with mixed results. Against Croatia (left) in the last 16 they made 15, but only three were successful (green arrows), and against Poland (right) in the quarter-finals, they made 36 - only four were successful. Overall they are ranked 10th with a success rate of 19.5% - Wales are top for open-play crosses with 32.1%

Against Poland, Portugal's full-backs, Eliseu and Cedric (numbers 19 and 21 in the right-hand graphic above), both looked to get forward and put those crosses in, and it will be the same if Vieirinha returns at right-back.

But, apart from Nani, who had two headers at goal against Poland, and Ronaldo, who had none, they do not get many people into the box.

And, as long as we keep our shape, we are defensively sound on our flanks, with Gunter on the right and Neil Taylor on the left, to stop those balls being delivered in the first place - which is another reason I think the game will be very tight.

Saunders' predicted starting XI v Portugal

Dean Saunders' Wales team to face Portugal

Jonny Williams is the natural replacement for Ramsey in midfield and, as well as working hard, he can cause Portugal problems by running at them with the ball.

I would also just do a straight swap at the back with James Collins, who is very strong in the air to help us deal with those crosses, coming in for Davies.

Chris Coleman got everything right from a tactical point of view against Belgium and I am confident he will do the same again - he has tweaked his squad throughout this tournament to suit the opposition and, even without two key players, he can do the same again.

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Euro 2016: Gareth Bale v Cristiano Ronaldo - in numbers

We are an adaptable team and, although we are at our best when we play on the counter-attack, we are capable of playing possession football too - we actually kept the ball better than I thought we could against Belgium when they sat back after going 1-0 up.

There will have to be an element of that in Lyon too, because Portugal are not going to step out unless they go a goal behind, but although we will see enough of the ball to construct some attacks, the priority is that we do not leave ourselves open on the break.

If it does go to extra time, we can deal with it - this Wales team is full of engines, all fit and strong. That is not an area where we will be lacking either.

What will decide the game? A bit of genius

Most different scorers at Euro 2016
Sam Vokes became Wales' sixth different scorer in France with his late header against Belgium. France are the top scorers in the tournament with 11 - one more than Wales - with four different scorers, the same as Portugal

Not counting the own goal that decided the Northern Ireland game, Wales have had six different scorers at Euro 2016 - only Belgium have had more.

We have proved at this tournament that we are not a one-man team going forward because other players have produced in front of goal, not just Gareth Bale.

It is Bale who I am hoping will make the difference against Portugal, though.

Just as Portugal will look to Ronaldo to provide that bit of inspiration, he is our most likely match-winner.

If you took those two out of the game, then I would be predicting a 0-0 draw and penalties because the teams are very evenly matched. With Bale and Ronaldo on the pitch, I am expecting to see a bit of genius when it really matters.

There will be duels all over the pitch that will shape the way the game goes so I do not want to bill it as a straight battle between the Real Madrid duo, but I imagine it will be something to do with one of them that decides who makes the final.

Dean Saunders was speaking to Chris Bevan in Paris.

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