Portugal wait on Pepe’s fitness for Wales semi-final but José Fonte is ready

Portugal Training - Euro 2016

José Fonte is anticipating a “battle” as Portugal venture into the Euro 2016 semi-final against Wales with doubts still surrounding the availability of the Real Madrid defender Pepe.

The European Cup winner has been struggling with a thigh injury and trained on his own back at the team’s base in Marcoussis, just south of Paris, before their journey to Lyon. The Portugal manager, Fernando Santos, will make a late decision on the 33-year-old but has already insisted he will only select players who “are 100% fit”, with Ricardo Carvalho ready to step in alongside Fonte if required.

“As for Pep, you’ll probably be tossing and turning in your beds tonight but I’ll be sleeping soundly because I know we have other players who can do well for us if need be,” said Santos, who will also be without his first-choice defensive midfielder, William Carvalho, through suspension. “We’re content. Sometimes players recover and are fully fit to play. Other times, they’re not and others are called up. If Pep is 100% then he can start the game. If not, no problem. All the players must be 100% fit for such an important game.”

Fonte described his own involvement in a game of this size as “a dream come true” given his nomadic club career, which eventually brought him to England with Crystal Palace and now Southampton after various loan spells in Portugal. The centre-half had yet to play a Premier League game when he watched Euro 2012 from afar, having only just gained promotion to the top flight with Southampton. Indeed, the former under-21 international was only capped for the first time at senior level in November 2014.

Now 32, his form has established him in the heart of the team, with his experience of football in England potentially invaluable in the scrap ahead. “Wales are a very, very strong team who deserve to be here in the semi-finals and have had a great run,” said Fonte. “I know a lot of their players and, apart from one or two of them, they are all in the Premier League. They’re very physical, play with a lot of heart and for their team. But they’re also technically gifted and have a very high level of performance.

“This is going to be a battle, a very tough match. We’ve prepared for this, to be ready to play our game tomorrow and have our weapons at the ready. Maybe it will suit me. I’ve had a lot of experience in almost all the divisions in England, and I hope I can lean on that. My background made me what I am. It was one of hard work and suffering, but one I’m very proud of. I hope it helps me tomorrow if I’m part of the starting XI.

“But it means everything to me to be here. It means the world to me. I’ve always had the ambition, the desire and the belief I could get here. As soon as I reached the Premier League, I thought I’d be closer to my dream, my target, to play for the national team. We’ve been able to progress at Southampton to be a top six or seven club in the Premier League, which gave me the opportunity to be selected by the manager. It’s something I’m proud of and something I’ll always cherish, this time in Euro 2016.”

José Fonte

Santos, who rejected suggestions Nani might be distracted by his recent move from Fenerbahce to Valencia, reacted angrily when asked about the former Auxerre manager Guy Roux having cast doubt on the midfielder Renato Sanches’s age. The player, outstanding in the quarter-final against Poland, recently joined Bayern Munich for £27m but Roux had claimed he was not 18 but nearer 23 or 24. “Sanches was born in Portugal and is 18, I’m 61,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.

“But people are also talking about the way we play, and that’s music to my ears. I’m just focused on the next match. That’s all that’s important. The same is true of Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s been an amazing example so far in every aspect of his game. When you talk about being a team player, he has been unsurpassable. The way he behaves on the training pitch, around the other players – he’s on the same level as every single player when it comes to motivation, because they all want to make it to Paris and to win the final – this is something he’s done himself.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Dominic Fifield in Lyon, for The Guardian on Tuesday 5th July 2016 20.41 Europe/London

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