Portugal could be without Pepe for semifinal vs. Wales

Joseph Wilson
Associated Press

Lyon, France — Portugal will hold its breath until the last minute hoping its best player at the European Championship will be fit for its semifinal showdown against Wales.

No, Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t the cause for concern.

The fuss is about whether central defender Pepe, who has been key to Portugal’s place in the final four, will be fit to face Gareth Bale and his Wales teammates on Wednesday at the Stade de Lyon.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said on Tuesday that a decision would be made on match day, based on the state of Pepe’s recovery from a thigh muscle injury.

“We will make our decision tomorrow. I won’t be rushed into it, so I am sure you will be rolling in your beds tonight unable to sleep,” Santos said through a translator. “I will sleep quietly, because I have other players who can play.

“If Pepe is 100 percent, I will think about it so he can be in the starting 11.”

Pepe missed training on Monday and trained separately from his teammates at their tournament base near Paris on Tuesday before traveling to Lyon.

While Portugal has been able to turn to Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and 18-year-old Renato Sanches to get the goals that Ronaldo has yet to consistently produce, its defensive stability has pretty much hinged on Pepe.

The Real Madrid defender has played every minute of his team’s five matches, providing reliability in a backline that has been undermined by injury and inconsistent play. He has one yellow card in 510 minutes.

European Championship

All matches on ESPN

WEDNESDAY

■Portugal vs. Wales, 3 p.m.

THURSDAY

■Germany vs. France, 3 p.m.

Sunday’s final: 3 p.m.