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How much will Wales miss Aaron Ramsey against Portugal?
Last Updated: 06/07/16 11:27pm
Wales face Portugal in Wednesday's Euro 2016 semi-final without the suspended Aaron Ramsey. The Arsenal midfielder has shone for Chris Coleman's side, and the stats show just how much they'll miss him...
Aaron Ramsey tilted his head to the sky and held his face in his hands. Against Belgium, referee Damir Skomina had just brandished the midfielder's second yellow card of the tournament, ruling him out of the biggest game of his life and dealing a considerable blow to Wales in the process.
Ramsey admitted he was "gutted" after the Welsh celebrations died down at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, while Chris Coleman - who will also be without defender Ben Davies - lamented the loss of "one of the best players in the tournament" in his post-match press conference. "Some of his performances have been off the chart," added Coleman two days later.
Few could have expected Ramsey to be among Euro 2016's top performers after a frustrating period with Arsenal, but there is certainly weight behind Coleman's comments. Gareth Bale is Wales' top scorer, their superstar and their talisman, but the tireless Ramsey has been similarly important, driving them on from midfield and topping the assist charts with four in five games. Only France's Antoine Griezmann has had a hand in more goals.
Most goals and assists at Euro 2016
Two of those assists came in Friday's scintillating victory against Belgium. Ramsey took the corner for Ashley Williams' equaliser, and he created their second by bursting through midfield and cushioning Bale's long-range pass before crossing for Hal Robson-Kanu's stunning turn and finish.
Ramsey showed admirable composure to keep his focus after his costly booking in the second half, and he later described his performance as one of the best of his career. "I wanted to stand up and be counted," he added. No one could ever accuse him of shirking responsibility.
Ramsey's man-of-the-match display against Belgium followed similarly impressive showings in Wales' previous games. There was a brilliantly-taken goal and an assist in the 3-0 win over Russia, and it was his pass that released Bale for Gareth McAuley's own goal against Northern Ireland.
His form owes much to Coleman. The Wales boss uses Ramsey in an advanced midfield role ahead of Joe Ledley and Joe Allen, relieving him of the defensive and tactical responsibilities that have held him back at Arsenal, where Mesut Ozil has been preferred in his favoured position since Ramsey's brilliant 2013/14 season, in which he scored 10 goals and claimed eight assists in 20 starts.
Ramsey still contributes at both ends for Wales, but greater attacking freedom has unlocked his true potential. His domestic struggles have made him a scapegoat at Arsenal, but he has flourished away from the groans of frustration at the Emirates Stadium, charging from one box to the other with confidence and conviction and becoming the heartbeat of the national side.
Aaron Ramsey at Euro 2016
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The statistics are extraordinary, and they highlight the extent of what Wales will be missing against Portugal. As well as having four assists at Euro 2016, Ramsey ranks first among Coleman's players for touches, passes, chances created and crosses. Only James Chester has made more successful tackles. Only Bale has attempted more shots.
His absence is a big issue for Coleman. The Welsh coach is expected to turn to either Crystal Palace's Jonathan Williams or Leicester's Andy King to fill the gap, but he will do so knowing neither can offer the same level of industry or quality.
Aaron Ramsey gives us something we haven't got. He can do things in the position he plays in that other players can't do.
He admitted as much before the tournament. "Aaron Ramsey gives us something we haven't got," he said. "He can do things in the position he plays in that other players can't do. He can start play on the edge of our box and he can finish it off on the edge of the opposition box."
Without Ramsey, more creative responsibility will fall on Bale. The Real Madrid man's ability to produce individual moments of magic has been vital in France, but he has only created four scoring chances to Ramsey's 15 at the tournament. Wales will need more at the Stade de Lyon on Wednesday.
Ramsey insists Wales can do it without him and their team spirit and determination will be as strong as ever, but the task became immeasurably harder with that yellow card against Belgium. Their astonishing tournament will go down in history regardless of what happens next, but overcoming Portugal without Ramsey would be their greatest feat yet.