The idea of Wales outlasting Belgium in their Euro 2016 quarter final was far from unthinkable: nobody had been that impressed by Marc Wilmots’ men, they had injury problems and they had failed to win any of their previous three meetings with the last Britons standing in France.
Indeed, all three BBC pundits picked patriotically, but surely not many onlookers envisaged them delivering in 90 minutes, even fewer expected them to score three goals and barely anyone anticipated that they could do that without at least one from tournament joint-top scorer Gareth Bale. Oh, and they did it all despite trailing 1-0 as early as the 13th minute too!
If any performance or any result should turn a continent into believers, it was a 3-1 triumph over the most fancied team in the top half of the knockout bracket, yet Chris Coleman’s overachievers remain 8/1 outsiders in the competition winner betting and 6/4 to reach the final.
Here are three reasons to trust them to overcome Portugal in Lyon on Wednesday night:
They have been the best team in the tournament
Wales aren’t lucky to have made it to the semi-finals, their digits are better than everybody else’s. They have won 80% of their fixtures – admittedly Germany, Italy and France on 75% have the chance to pull level – and comfortably outscored the rest with 10 goals in total at a rate of two per game.
There has been no luck of the draw: they finished above one of the five pre-tournament frontrunners in their group (England) and just eliminated another in the quarter finals. Even the one match that they didn’t prevail in, they led in, with their downfall occurring as late as the 92nd minute.
Portugal still haven’t won a match
Portugal have shown plenty of resilience to get this far, but not a great deal of quality, proving incapable of recording a single victory despite having five attempts and not facing any sides rated as highly before the competition as the likes of Belgium: Iceland, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Poland.
Since the Euros expanded to eight nations in 1980, there is no precedent of a country progressing to the final without succeeding at least once in 90 minutes and, while their five-from-five draw figures might suggest that they can rely on that route again, Wales are yet to draw in France, winning four of their five contests in regulation time.
They fired three times in two of those encounters and haven’t been shut out once, whereas Portugal have averaged just a goal per game excluding extra time.
The semi-final precedent
It is fair to say that Portugal have more experience of this environment because, while Wales have never previously participated in a tournament semi-final, this is not only the Iberian side’s seventh ever but their fifth of this century alone.
However, that isn’t necessarily an advantage because five of the six ended in disappointment, with the sole exception being the one that they hosted against Holland at Euro 2004.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.