Two second-half goals in three minutes proved sufficient for Portugal to book their place in the final of Euro 2016, seeing off Wales 2-0 in Lyon. After a relatively quiet first half, goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani killed the game off almost before it had ever started, with Wales unable to muster a response to the cruel double blow so soon after the restart.
Portugal started the match as the more enterprising team, but with the exception of a low João Mário attempt that finished comfortably off-target, they failed to convert their possession into any real chances. That allowed Wales to grow into the game, and their first chance came from a training ground corner routine that Gareth Bale scooped over the bar.
Seemingly benefiting from boosted confidence, Chris Coleman's side went close twice in quick succession with low crosses from the right. The first, drilled in by Bale, was smothered by Portugal keeper Rui Patrício with Andy King in dangerous proximity; the second, floated by Hal Robson-Kanu, found the onrushing midfielder's head, though José Fonte did enough to divert it over the bar.
They proved the only real openings of a fairly tedious first half, with both sides looking paralyzed by the magnitude of the fixture.
However, it didn't take long in the second half before Ronaldo powered the game to life, scoring the opening goal with his side's first shot on target. Fittingly, it came from a set piece rather than any attacking ingenuity (in which both sides were sadly lacking), with the Portugal captain leaping high above the Welsh defense to power a Raphaël Guerreiro delivery into the back of the net.
Wales would've hoped to take some time to regroup after conceding, but fortune wasn't in their favor. Less than three minutes after the opener, a scuffed Ronaldo shot was poked home from point-blank range by Nani, cruelly killing the game off in seconds. Coleman reacted by swiftly making all three substitutions, though it was difficult to envisage a way back.
Indeed, if either side was going to score the game's third goal, it looked like Portugal. Ronaldo scraped the crossbar with a dipping free kick, before a vicious Nani effort was spilled by Wayne Hennessey -- fortunately for him, Mário's follow-up was drilled off-target.
To their credit, Wales never completely gave up, though they only ever stung the palms of Patrício from distance, and their Euro 2016 dream came to a conclusion. Having reached all expectations to reach this stage, they'll doubtless recover from the immediate disappointment and head home with their heads held high.
Portugal: Rui Patrício; Raphaël Guerreiro, José Fonte, Bruno Alves, Cédric; Adrien Silva (João Moutinho 79'), Danilo Pereira, João Mário; Renato Sanches (André Gomes 74'); Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani (Ricardo Quaresma 87').
Goals: Ronaldo (50'), Nani (53').
Wales: Wayne Hennessey; James Chester, Ashley Williams, James Collins (Jonathan Williams 66'); Chris Gunter, Joe Allen, Joe Ledley (Sam Vokes 58'), Andy King, Neil Taylor; Gareth Bale; Hal Robson-Kanu (Simon Church 63').
1. Fernando Santos is a monster
Portugal's Euro 2016 has been strange indeed -- they've managed to make it to the final without being particularly good at all. It's partly because of the mechanics of international football, which make it possible to be successful without performing. Unlike a protracted domestic campaign, in which consistent excellence is the key, luck plays a much bigger role. And having relied on penalty shootouts and last-gasp victories to make this stage, that has certainly proven the case for Portugal. Their coach Fernando Santos hasn't managed to extract the best from a talented bunch of players, nor much semblance of entertaining football. But he certainly won't mind: the history books will have him down as the first man to lead Portugal to a major tournament final since they were defeated on home soil by Greece in this tournament 12 years ago.
2. Fortune finally favored Cristiano Ronaldo
Up until this match, Ronaldo had been having a pretty unlucky tournament. It wasn't that he was playing particularly badly -- he was getting into excellent positions -- but, for whatever reason, he'd lacked his clinical ability in front of goal. However, in this game, at long last, things went his way. That's not to downplay the superb technique of his opening goal, in which he leaped high above the towering James Chester to power an unstoppable header into the back of the net. However, his miscue a few minutes later was rather luckier, turning into an impromptu assist for Nani to prod home the second. If his confidence was on the wane, it certainly shouldn't be now. For Portugal, the timing could hardly be better.
3. Wales were half the team without Aaron Ramsey
We'd suspected after his man-of-the-match performance against Belgium in the quarterfinals that Wales would dearly miss suspended playmaker Aaron Ramsey against Portugal. That certainly proved the case. His replacement, Andy King, did about as well as could've been expected, and occasionally caused Portugal problems with late runs into the penalty area. However, he ultimately lacked the creativity and technique of Ramsey, as well as his knack of finding pockets of space in the final third. Had he been available, the result may have been different.