It will be a clash of neighbours in the round of 16 when the high flying Wales take on Northern Ireland for a place in the quarterfinals of Euro 2016. This match will be played at Parc des Princes in Paris on Saturday, June 25.
Wales were expected to be one of the underdogs at the Euros and were paired with England, Russia and Slovakia in Group B. Euro 2016 is the Dragon’s first international competition since 1958 and they made it memorable by topping their group. Wales lost to England 2-1 thanks to a last gasp goal by Daniel Sturridge but victories over Russia and Slovakia were enough to propel them to top spot above England. In all their games, their impressive midfield has been crucial to their charge with Aaron Ramsey enjoying the space generated by Gareth Bale’s runs. Chris Coleman’s side made it a habit of scoring crucial goals at the right time in this tournament especially in the first half. The only time their defence wilted was under relentless pressure from England but that looks a distant threat in this encounter.
Northern Ireland were one of the last teams to qualify for the last-16 picking up one of the four spots available for best third-placed teams. They arrived in France with not many hopes of progression especially since they were tagged with Germany, Poland and Ukraine in Group C. They expectedly went down by identical 1-0 scores to both Germany and Poland in matches that were as tight as the score suggests. But the coup de grace came against Ukraine who were swatted away in a 2-0 win. With no expectations of further progress in the tournament, Northern Ireland could be a surprise package and give tough time to Wales. Under Michael O’Neill, the team has developed a reputation of being one of the most stubborn teams and prides itself on defending the goal with all their might. It could be the case once again on Saturday night.
Wales do not boast of a great recent form with just three wins in their last ten encounters but most of these have come in the friendlies in Bales’ absence. They have already notched up two wins in this tournament and scored six goals.
Northern Ireland come with an impressive record of two defeats and five wins in their last ten encounters. They pride on being a top defensive unit and have not conceded more than a single goal in any of their last 16 matches. Quite an achievement but this is what O’Neill’s team loves to do match after match!
Key players and team news
For Wales, there are no apparent injury concerns or card suspensions for Coleman to worry about. With Ramsey and Bale striking good synergy in recent encounters, there would be expectations of the duo continuing the same. Watch out for Joe Allen behind them who has been a steady presence in the middle of the park.
O’Neill too has the luxury of a full-fit squad at his disposal and may not make many changes to the final XI. Connor Washington has been impressive starting ahead of Kyle Lafferty and may continue to do so. But keep an eye on Lafferty who may be called upon from the bench.
Wales scored in every game so far in the tournament with Bale marking his presence on the score sheet every time. They scored a goal in the first half in every match and backing this to happen again could be a smart bet.
Northern Ireland will be a difficult team to break down – not more than a single goal in their last 16 matches is a testimony to this. But they offer very little in the final third and may rely on set pieces and counter attacks.
Wales look strong and organized both in defense and offence. Northern Ireland may not give them much space to hit more but back Wales to come up with goods when required. This could be a tight game that may go to extra time. Under 2.5 goals looks a pretty good option too and with Bale in such good scoring form, finding him on scoring sheet is another option.
Bale to be anytime goal scorer at odds of 2.55 with Betvictor.