Ronaldo’s spectacular header ended Wales’ historic run in this tournament and he even claimed an assist, of sorts, as his shot was deflected home by Nani to secure a result which left Wales proud but heartbroken — and with no-one in any doubt that CR7 still wears the crown both at Real Madrid and here in France.
There were other heroes on the pitch for Portugal, of course, as Fernando Santos’ men defended well, were competitive in midfield and used Nani and Renato Sanches as very useful outlets when Ronaldo was tightly marked. But the more the match went on, and the more space Ronaldo found, the bigger a danger he was and the more certain it was Wales were going home.
Defeat should not be seen as a low point for Chris Coleman’s men, however, because although they unravelled here, it really is astonishing how far they have come — a fact reflected in the reception given to them at the final whistle by their emotional travelling fans who sung their hearts out all night.
Fifa world rankings are not an exact science or even a particularly reliable one, but for a team to go from 117th in January 2011 to the top 10 in 2016 and to the brink of the top six now is a meteoric rise and one which deserves respect — even if the dream didn’t quite finish how they hoped.
Portugal manager Santos gave Coleman’s side exactly that in the build up to this semi-final, describing Wales as an ‘incredible’ side and correcting journalists who suggested they played a typically British long-ball style.
“Are you joking me? Have you seen them play?,” he said.
The Welsh went on to prove a point by having the greater percentage of possession in an even first half in Lyon, not bad when you consider they were up against a team used to enjoying long spells on the ball.
But without the energy and drive of Aaron Ramsey, suspended after picking up two yellow cards in the competition, they didn’t have the extra oomph this time to turn possession into goals.
Bale did his best — one run from inside his own half after 22 minutes, which culminated in a left-foot shot well held by keeper Rui Patricio, was the highlight of a quiet first half. But in the end, Ronaldo remained his nemesis.
The Portugal captain was unfortunate not to earn a penalty when James Collins grappled with him as a Nani cross arrived in the area — and then, just when it seemed he had been well shacked by a hard-working Welsh defence, he struck.
A short corner on the left, a whipped cross by Raphael Guerreiro and a spectacular header from Ronaldo, taking out James Chester in the process, saw the ball fly into the roof of the net after 50 minutes. Like him, love him or hate you simply cannot keep him down — this was no normal header. It was an incredible, almost superhuman leap, and a thunderous connection.
In a frantic spell of football it was 2-0 three minutes later, this time Nani stretching to deflect a miss-hit effort from Ronaldo past a helpless Hennessey who was going the other way. Cruel, but decisive. It could easily have been three — Ronaldo thundered a trademark free-kick narrowly over the bar, Joao Mario really should have scored after Hennessey fumbled a Nani shot into his path, and the Wales keeper made an excellent stop from Danilo.
Coleman made three changes in a frantic bid to rescue the day , bringing on Jonathan Williams, Sam Vokes and Simon Church — and his team at least rallied with Bale unleashing two spectacular long-range shots that almost beat Patricio.
It wasn’t enough, though. Wales, brave, honest and worthy of respect couldn’t quite match the genius of Ronaldo or the experience of Portugal, playing in their seventh semi-final. The two Real Madrid men chatted on the pitch and embraced at the final whistle — a nice touch. But this, as we really should be used to, was Ronaldo’s day.
Patricio 7; Cedric 7, Alves 7, Fonte 7, Guerreiro 7; Silva 6 (Moutinho 78; 6), Danilo 7, Mario 6; Sanches 7 (Gomes 73; 6), Ronaldo 9, Nani 8 (Quaresma 83; 6)
Hennessey 6; Gunter 6, Chester 5, Collins 5 (J Williams 67; 6), A Williams 7, N Taylor 7; Allen 6, Ledley 6 (Vokes 58; 6), King 6; Robson-Kanu 6 (Church 63; 6), Bale 8.
Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)