Cristiano Ronaldo scored one and assisted another to lead Portugal to a 2-0 win over Wales in the semifinals of the European Championship on Wednesday.
Portugal, losing their only previous final to Greece in 2004, will fight for the title against the winner of the other match between hosts France and world champions Germany, which will be held in Marseille on Thursday.
An excited Portugal coach Fernando Santos said after the match, “I feel very happy. Happy for the players, for every single Portuguese. For the many Greeks who supported me throughout, especially in the knockout stages.
“My first game at the helm of the team was two years ago, and our goal was to reach here. Thankfully everything worked out for us. We are stronger, more solid, more united.”
Wales manager Chris Coleman said the team could leave France with heads held high.
“The nation’s proud of the players,” he said. “I’m proud of the players and when they look back in a few days they’ll feel very proud of themselves. We’re going to go into the next campaign with a lot of hunger. I’m more proud of this team than any other team I’ ve worked with. I imagine the players will get a huge welcome back when they return to Cardiff, and they deserve that.”
After a dull first half in which neither side created clear-cut chances, Portugal pulled ahead in the 50th minute through Ronaldo’ s stunning header.
The Real Madrid forward jumped high and hung in the air above Wales defender James Chester to bullet a Raphael Guerreiro cross into the roof of the net.
It was his ninth goal in four European Championships and helped him equal Michel Platini’s record.
Wales, without suspended Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, were soon exposed at the back. In just three minutes Fernando Santos’ side doubled the lead.
Ronaldo, the first player in history playing in three Euro semifinals, delivered a low drive from 25 meters and Nani stretched to turn the ball home past a wrongfooted Wales keeper Wayne Hennessey.
The 31-year-old almost made it 3-0 in the 63rd minute, but his freekick from 30 meters dipped over the wall and flew over the cross bar.
His performance kept inspiring the whole team until the last moment when he raced onto a long pass and rounded Hennessey, but the angle was tight and his effort hit the sidenet.
His Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale tried hard in search of a goal throughout the match but could not creat miracles despite making some impressive runs. In the 22nd minute, he got the ball inside his own half, took a touch and then just pulled away, leaving three men in his wake. He ran to the edge of the box and lashed a shot straight at Portugal keeper Rui Patricio.
Wales, who came back from one goal down to beat world second-ranked Belgium in the quarterfinals, will still return home with pride since this was just their first appearance in major tournament in 58 years.
Ronaldo consoled Bale with a hug after the final whistle amid singing from the Wales fans, who refused to leave the stadium although their team’s tremendous journey had ended.