Lille, France: Aaron Ramsey has matched Gareth Bale for high-class play and a team-first ethic during Wales’ magical advance to the semi-finals of the European Championship.
But the team is going to have to cope without the verve and vigour of the Arsenal midfielder against Portugal after Ramsey picked up another yellow card during the team’s 3-1 victory over Belgium on Friday.
Unselfishness was even a factor in the 25-year-old getting himself suspended for the semi-final match in Lyon on Wednesday. Ramsey was punished for intentionally handling the ball to break up a Belgium attack when Wales was under pressure leading 2-1 in the 75th minute.
“If they have to take one for the team then, so be it, and Aaron has done that,” Wales coach Chris Coleman said after the greatest night in the nation’s soccer history. “I am absolutely gutted for Aaron because he’s been outstanding in this tournament.”
Ramsey covered his face with the front of his red Wales shirt, understanding right away the consequence of his action — he won’t be playing against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
His frustration was perhaps intensified because the first yellow card he received at Euro 2016 seemed avoidable — shown for a minor foul late in stoppage time of a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland in the Round of 16.
“We said before the game tonight that one or two of the boys were on yellows but we’ve got to do what we need to do to get through,” said Coleman, who also lost defender Ben Davies for one match after he received a second yellow card as well. “They’ve been outstanding, both players, but they did what they needed to do, what the team needed from them.
“I am certainly very proud of both players and their contributions,” the coach said.
Ramsey, known as ‘Rambo’ to teammates, has been immense in the No. 10 shirt as a creative playmaker who does not shirk defensive duty.
His early goal against Russia set Wales up for a 3-0 win and top spot in Group B, and his four assists, including two against Belgium, are tied for most at Euro 2016 with Eden Hazard.
It was Ramsey’s surging run into space to collect Bale’s long pass that helped set up Hal Robson-Kanu for moment of individual brilliance to lift Wales into a 2-1 lead in Lille.
“He’s a world-class player but we have world-class players throughout our squad,” Robson-Kanu said of Ramsey’s influence. “We have a squad here, that’s the point. I’m sure the players who step in will perform.”
One candidate is Andy King, a member of the Leicester squad that beat Ramsey’s Arsenal to win the Premier League title.
That surprising and crowd-pleasing title win has fuelled belief that Wales — or Iceland, which plays France in a quarter-final on Sunday — can go all the way.
Robson-Kanu suggested Euro 2016 has not seen the last of Ramsey. “I am sure he will be ready for the final,” he said.