Wales look to extend their good run when they take on hot favorites Belgium in the second quarter-finals of Euro 2016. This encounter will be played at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Friday, July 1.
With Gareth Bale in the side, this Welsh side was expected to do well in France. And true to those expectations, Wales topped the group with two wins and a loss to England. More than the results, the manner in which Wales performed caught everyone’s eye. Chris Coleman’s side looked systematic in dismantling sides although their inability to break down organized defensive sides is well documented. This weakness was on full show against Northern Ireland in the first knockout match where Wales were frustrated for long spells. The Welsh were limited to just one shot on goal with Bale testing the keeper from a long range free kick. But they were relieved when a late own goal by Gareth McAuley sent Wales through to the quarter-finals. Though Wales won three of their four games in France so far, their ability to withstand high pressing – exploited by England – is also suspect, apart from their inability to break down stubborn teams.
Belgium do not boast of a superstar like Bale; they boast of an entire team of superstars! A quick glance at their squad makes you realize that the cream of elite European clubs are Belgians. This golden generation of Red Devils are expected to go far in the tournament but all the pre-tournament hype proved ineffective in the first match when they were given a master class by Italy. Credit to the talent in this team to pick up and qualify with a couple of classy wins but question marks on their ability to work as a team always hover around the Red Devils. Their best performance so far has been in the round of 16 where they clinically dismantled Hungary – mind you, not an easy opponent in the Euros this time – in a 4-0 win. Of course Hungary played into Belgium’s hands by refusing to shut shop and frustrate Belgium. But it was a virtuoso performance that should answer all critics while throwing the gauntlet to the opponents.
With two teams that believe in attacking and an open style of play, it promises to be an exciting match in the offing. Both teams should heave a sigh of relief that the other doesn’t believe in sitting back – which ironically is the Achilles’ heel for both.
Wales have won three of their last four matches in Euros but only four of their last ten – most of the losses have come in the absence of Bale in the friendlies before the Euros.
Belgium, notwithstanding its loss to Italy, have been in good form with seven wins out of ten matches of which three have come in France.
Key players and team news
Wales’ captain Ashley Williams is a doubt but could be pushed for a start in this important clash; else we could see James Collins starting as centre back. They could use the 4-3-3 formation with Robson-Kanu and Bale proving to be an exciting pairing on the wings.
Moussa Dembele is still injured for Belgium while Thomas Vermaelen is suspended for this match. Eden Hazard exploded in sparkling fashion against Hungary and will once again be their key man.
Wales scored in each of their Euro 2016 games and in seven of their last nine matches. Belgium looks a far cry from the one that came a cropper against Italy in their Euros’ opener and have scored in 12 of their last 13 matches. With regular centre backs unavailable for both sides, we could be in for a more open game. Backing both the sides to score looks a prudent bet.
Belgium failed to beat Wales in either of their Euro 2016 qualifying matches and the head-t0-head stands at three wins for Wales and four wins for Belgium in their ten meetings. People expect Belgium to steamroll Wales on current form but if Bale can explode, this team can surprise many. An aggressive bet would be to punt on Wales qualifying for the semis.
Bale and Hazard would be the natural outlets for both sides and they should be their main suppliers too. Backing them to be on the assists’ charts is an attractive option too.
Both teams to score at odds of 2.25 with Betfred.