King has to shine for Wales in Euro semi-final
Wales' greatest problem…
PORTUGAL v WALES
(Tomorrow, 2.50am, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)
Chris Coleman is one of the great chest-thumping managers at Euro 2016.
A natural rabble-rouser, the proud Welshman has converted every one of his players to a collective cause, each one willing to sacrifice himself for the other.
Aaron Ramsey made that sacrifice in the quarter-finals.
And Coleman knew he was faced with his greatest selection problem of the tournament.
For a moment, that mask of defiance slipped.
"This is a big loss for us," Coleman admitted, rubbing his forehead, as if struggling to absorb the magnitude of the setback.
"We wouldn't be sitting here without those players. Rules are rules, but it's so sad. We'll miss them."
Coleman was of course referring to defender Ben Davies and Ramsey, both of whom are suspended for the semi-final against Portugal tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Both men made an immeasurable contribution to Wales' unlikely fable and have able deputies in James Collins and Andy King, respectively.
But if Collins and Davies, with a little defensive shuffle, are almost a like-for-like swop, King's promotion is more complicated. He's replacing a phenomenon.
When Ramsey turned up in France with the kind of startling "blond in a bottle" hairdo usually seen only in old photos of Gazza at Euro '96 or outside a Cardiff nightclub at 2am, hopes were not high.
Ramsey, the injury-prone, error-prone enigma from Arsenal, the midfielder with a Midas touch and a flaky temperament, appeared to be on the continent for a jaunty trip around France with his mates.
In keeping with his unpredictable character, he defied conventional wisdom instead, establishing a foothold in midfield with Joe Allen that gradually became a chokehold as the tournament progressed.
By the time the quarter-finals came around, they were squeezing their opponents as if they were Belgian chocolates with a soft, gooey centre.
Perhaps another yellow card was inevitable, an act of self-sacrifice from a noble footballer whose tournament has come to encapsulate Wales' devotion to a wider cause.
So King isn't replacing a commoner, but a Welsh monarch in midfield. He has the name, but not the authority.
He needs to find it pretty damn quick to thwart a Portuguese invasion.
The 27-year-old at least believes in miracles. He was part of one last season.
King made 25 starts and 16 substitute appearances for Leicester City during their journey to the Magic Kingdom and now finds himself, rather astonishingly, in a Disney sequel.
Two football underdogs led by inspirational managers, two fairy tales starring the same unheralded character, King's life is being lived out in a deja vu bubble. It's Groundhog Day, but from the fringes.
King got some game time against Belgium, essentially repeating his routine for Leicester, an accomplished stand-in waiting in the wings for his curtain call.
But he's working with a different cast at short notice. Ramsey's relationship with Allen matured and blossomed in France, essentially mirroring and driving their country's progress through the tournament.
Belgium faced a pair of midfield dynamos creating and cajoling in tandem.
King isn't quite equipped to replicate Ramsey's stirring, talismanic efforts, but holding the fort long enough for others to shine might be enough.
Ramsey had the electrifying industry required to win a game. King has the dependable qualities needed not to lose one.
Besides, the utility man overcame odds of 5000-1 with Leicester to help turn daft fantasy into eternal legend. His country could use a repeat performance now.
Wales' regal romance is indeed fit for a King.
BY THE NUMBERS
Aaron Ramsey has contributed to five of Wales' 10 goals at the tournament, scoring one and providing four assists.