Despite Wales finishing second in one of Euro 2016’s tougher qualifying groups, they were still 100/1 to win the tournament before they faced off against Slovakia in their Group B opener in Bordeaux.
But having topped the pile in the group stage, before beating Northern Ireland and Belgium – for the second time in a row – they now head into a semi-final against Portugal as underdogs once again. So will Wales finally bow out of Euro 2016? Don’t bet on it. Because…
Wales have a team while Portugal are individuals
The stats against Belgium alone should have dismissed the idea that Wales are over-reliant on Bale. Their scorers: Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes – with the assists provided by Aaron Ramsey and Chris Gunter.
But even with quality around the park – something Wales undoubtedly have – it’s hard to get this far without outstanding team spirit. And that’s something evident throughout the Wales squad, from Ramsey and Robson-Kanu’s instinctive link-up play to Ashley Williams’ organisation of a rock solid defence.
That’s in stark contrast to Portugal, whose Cristiano Ronaldo memorably huffed off the pitch after they wheezed to a draw against Iceland, while the centre-back pairing of Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho shipped three goals against Hungary and gave the impression they’d never seen one another before. And on that note…
Portugal’s defence can be exploited by pace
While A Selecao coped with attacking outfits Poland and Croatia through a combination of skill and luck, their defensive weakness tends to appear against sides who soak up the pressure and break on the counter – with Portugal’s defence a wily but slow unit.
Hungary sat back and repeatedly hit them on the counter-attack in the 3-3 draw, with Nemzeti Tizenegy content to sit back without the ball and suddenly strike. That’s the same method Albania used when they won 1-0 in Portugal during qualifying, and it’s one Wales can use to devastating effect.
The natural pace and trickery of Bale and Allen is likely to leave the likes of Jose Fonte and Carvalho in the dust, while this robust Welsh defence have the ability to thwart the attacks which this expansive – and occasionally naive – Portugal side are likely to exert throughout the game.
The Dragons will dominate in the air
Yet again in the Belgium game, Wales were dominant in the air – even against a side boasting the height and strength of Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel and Romelu Lukaku.
Ashley Williams and Sam Vokes both netted with superb headers, while at the other end, the Welsh rearguard were imperious when dealing with crosses. And against talented but lightweight players like Adrien Silva and Nani, there’s little doubt that Wales will dominate in the air.
Set-pieces have already proved to be a crucial source of goals throughout the tournament, so even if Wales’ team ethic and counter-attacking pace doesn’t down Portugal, another bullet header from their talismanic captain Williams may well do the trick.
Wales are the men to back in the match betting, with Chris Coleman’s charges 3/1 to win, while Portugal are 6/5 and it’s 21/10 for a draw.
There could also be plenty of value in backing Robson-Kanu to score anytime at 7/2, with the former Reading man already boasting two goals to his name in the tournament.
However, the best bet of all could well be Wales to win and both teams to score at 8/1, with both teams having found the net in three of the Dragons’ five fixtures during this tournament, and the same number for Portugal.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing