LYON, FRANCE — Cristiano Ronaldo upstaged Gareth Bale to propel Portugal into its second European Championship final, scoring a thumping header and then setting up Nani’s goal in a 2-0 win over Wales on Wednesday.
The goals came in the space of three minutes early in the second half in Lyon, helping end Wales’ unlikely run to the semifinals in only its second ever major tournament.
Ronaldo equaled France great Michel Platini’s record of nine goals in European Championship football when he timed a prodigious leap to perfection and planted home a header in the 50th.
The Real Madrid star then sent in a long-range shot that a sliding Nani diverted into the net from 10 meters.
Ronaldo— a serial winner in individual and team prizes in club football — will get another chance to win his first trophy on the international stage against either France or Germany in Sunday’s final at the Stade de France.
“It’s what we have dreamt of since the beginning,” Ronaldo said. “We knew it would be a long road and we’re still in the tournament.”
Portugal last competed in a final at Euro 2004, when the team surprisingly lost on home soil to Greece. A 19-year-old Ronaldo shed tears after that match, but he has managed to lead a much weaker side to another international showpiece.
Ronaldo shared a long conversation with Bale after the final whistle and the Madrid teammates embraced. This could have been the match where Bale emerged from Ronaldo’s shadow, but that will have to wait.
“It’s very disappointing to be so close to the final,” Bale said, “but we have to be proud. This is a proud moment for us, we have achieved a lot.”
Competing in its first tournament since the 1958 World Cup, Wales — a rugby-mad nation of 3 million people — has been one of the most popular stories of Euro 2016, topping its group and then beating highly fancied Belgium in the quarterfinals.
But the Welsh had no response to the successive blows dealt by Ronaldo after a turgid first half that had been illuminated by a couple of surging runs from Bale.
Portugal hadn’t previously won a match in regulation 90 minutes in France, but there would be no late drama here thanks to Ronaldo.
The owner of the best leap in world football, Ronaldo timed his jump perfectly and headed home left back Raphael Guerreiro’s cross off a short-corner routine. Wales defender James Chester was blindsided by Ronaldo, who scored his third goal of the tournament — one less than France forward Antoine Griezmann.
It was telling that when they needed to chase the game, the Welsh could only throw on a striker from the third tier of English football — Simon Church. The absence of attacking midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who was suspended on Wednesday, was keenly felt.
There were a couple of half-chances for Wales late on, but Portugal could have doubled the margin of victory by the end, with Joao Mario hitting the post with one of the chances on the breakaway.
Portugal had lost five of its previous six semifinal matches in major tournaments.
After the final whistle, Wales headed over to applaud their fans, who didn’t stop singing in the corner of the Stade de Lyon.
“We have no regrets,” Bale said. “We’re a proud nation and proud of what we achieved.”
Meanwhile, Portugal — defying pre-tournament expectations — is heading to Saint-Denis as Ronaldo chases that elusive international title.
‘’We had difficult moments,” Ronaldo said, “but it’s like I always say, it’s better to start poorly and have a positive ending, The dream is still alive.”