Wales not afraid to dabble in dark arts, says Chris Coleman

Welsh manager says that his side have no problem matching Portugal’s gamesmanship

Wales manager Chris Coleman laughs while chatting to a UEFA delegate during the walk around at the Stade de Lyon, Lyon ahead of his side’s Euro 2016 semi-final encounter with Portugal. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

Wales manager Chris Coleman laughs while chatting to a UEFA delegate during the walk around at the Stade de Lyon, Lyon ahead of his side’s Euro 2016 semi-final encounter with Portugal. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

 

Chris Coleman has told Portugal to expect a “streetwise” Wales in their Euro 2016 semi-final.

Portugal have been accused of gamesmanship in the past, with Iceland boss Lars Lagerback pointing the finger at the Real Madrid pair of Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe earlier in the tournament.

Lagerback said at a press conference before his side’s group game against the nation: “Portugal has one of the best players in the world in Cristiano, but he is also an excellent actor.

“In the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid we also saw the actions of someone who could be in Hollywood. I mean Pepe.”

But Wales boss Coleman feels his players have grown up on the international stage and will not be distracted on Wednesday.

“At this level games are decided in a second, a turnover, the ball changes hands, somebody makes the wrong decision,” Coleman said ahead of the Lyon showdown.

“You can call it gamesmanship, but sometimes it’s being streetwise at this level.

“We used to be far too honest. I’d look at what players used to do to us in the same situations, and we’d be miles behind.

“Sometimes it’s not pretty, or even ugly, and you can see it as negative.

“But anything you need to do to stay in the game, do it. It’s streetwise, football smart. We’ve got a lot better at that in the last few years.”

Much of the pre-match focus has centred on the personal duel between Gareth Bale and Ronaldo.

The two Real Madrid forwards, the two most expensive players in football history, are seen as holding the keys to their respective countries making Sunday’s final in Paris against Germany or France.

No one can dispute Ronaldo’s phenomenal goal-scoring ability — as well as scoring nearly 500 goals at club level he has netted a record 60 times for Portugal in 131 appearances — but Bale is recognised as the greater team player.

And Coleman, who laughed off a question from a Belgian journalist that he was wanted there after Wales’ 3-1 quarter-final upset of Belgium, is in no doubt that is what sets Bale apart as a footballer.

“You can’t manufacture or pretend... you’re either a team player or you’re not,” said Coleman, who has to fill the gap caused by the absence of suspended pair Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies.

“You’re either comfortable being in a team environment with people putting themselves out there knowing they’re not guaranteed anything even if they do their best, but want to do it for their country, or you’re not.

“Balo is exactly like that. But it’s not just this tournament. We had a whole campaign to get through to get here where they were exactly the same.

“Where we find ourselves now. It hasn’t happened overnight. The players, the bonds they have together, that togetherness.”

Coleman is aware Ronaldo can wreck Wales’ dream of reaching a first major final, but will not seek tips from Bale on how to stop the three-time Ballon d’Or winner.

He says it is not necessary because they have “been watching him long enough and it’s not just about one player” and Wales’ focus, as he has stressed throughout the competition, will be on themselves.

But Coleman added: “If I speak to Giggsy (Ryan Giggs) or if you hear (Sir) Alex (Ferguson) speaking about him, it’s about his desire to get better.

“You see how motivated he is for himself to score, and to win.

“I constantly have conversations with players who say they played up to a certain level and were brilliantly talented, but if you look a bit deeper he was missing something: attitude or mentality.

“With all his talent, Cristiano has that mentality. I remember Ronaldo when I was at Fulham as a manager, and he scored in the last minute, beat us 2-1 when we were fine and comfortable, went on a mazy run... unstoppable.

“You remember things like that, great pieces of play from great individuals. They’ve got one of them.

“We’ve got one too.”

Wales’ path to a major semi-final has been remarkable considering they were ranked 117th in the world less than five years ago, when the late Gary Speed started the journey.

“He could be sitting here where I am, enjoying what we’re enjoying,” Coleman said.

“Unfortunately that was taken away. We always remember Speeds. I don’t need football to do that.

“People think the end of this tournament is the end of this journey, but it’s not.

“They’ll be here long after I am. This success is part of the learning process.”

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