By Antony Jordan
The second of the Euro 2016 Quarter Finals plays this Friday night as two sides who were drawn together in the qualifying rounds for this summer’s football tournament in France clash for a place in the final four of the tournament. The Belgians will feel that they have finally lived up to their potential after getting this far at the World Cup two years ago while Wales are in dreamland at the moment as there was no-one who expected them to still be playing at this stage of the competition.
The Welsh took four points from Belgium in qualifying, now can they once again upset the odds to eclipse their reaching this stage at the 1958 World Cup? We preview this must win game for both sides with online sportsbook Bet365.com and provide another of our top Euro 2016 picks.
To Win (90 minutes):
Route to the Quarter Finals:
The key man in Wales’ progression to the final eight stage of their debut European Championships has been Real Madrid attacker Gareth Bale as the former Southampton and Tottenham player scored three goals as they topped Group B ahead of England, Slovakia and Russia. The Welsh side defeated the Slovakians in their first match with a late goal from Hal Robson-Kanu to snatch a 2-1 victory, but despite leading at half time against their biggest rivals England after a free kick from Bale they were edged out 2-1 by the Three Lions.
They showed their ability and talent in the final game of the group stage though as they bounced back 3-0 as they dominated against Russia to secure top spot in Group B to exceed many expectations about the side. However, things have not stopped there as following their narrow 1-0 win against defensively solid Northern Ireland, as well as losses to France and Iceland for Ireland and England, Wales are now the last remaining side from the British Isles left in the tournament. If they continue to defend resolutely and attack with pace as they have done so far in this tournament do they stand a chance of upsetting the odds?
Belgium’s European Championships did not start well as they disjointed and standoffish with each other on the field against Italy as they failed to create much and were taken apart as the Italians ran out 2-0 winners. They were aided in getting back on track in their second game as they faced an Ireland side that was far too respectful of them and Belgium cruised past the Irish 3-0 and they secured passage the knockout phase by edging out Sweden 1-0 in a tight game. They recorded the biggest win of the tournament in the last 16 phase with a 4-0 win over Hungary as they, with Eden Hazard in particular, dominated the match. They scored early in that one before they finished off the Hungarians with a trio of late goals and they will bring a massive amount of confidence into this clash, but can they see off the scrapping Wales?
The news coming from the Welsh camp before this match is all good as there were legitimate concerns about defender, and captain, Ashley Williams as he suffered a shoulder injury against Northern Ireland. However he, thanks to the capable Welsh medical team, has recovered from this and he’ll play the biggest game in Welsh history to see the side at full strength and with two clean sheets in qualifying against Belgium the Welsh will be full of confidence too for this Quarter Final clash.
While Wales are at full strength the Belgian side have some big problems in their defence with two of their starting four out of this game. Central defender Thomas Vermaelen is suspended for this match and Jan Vertonghen, who has been playing at left back and was expected to cover for Vermaelen, is out of the tournament after twisting his knee in training. Hazard was also a doubt after picking up a thigh injury, but he has recovered in time for this match. The loss of the two defenders will be a big blow for Belgium though.
Although Belgium topped their qualifying group as they finished two points ahead of the Welsh side, they were given no favours by this evening’s opposition as they held 0-0 on home soil before a 25th minute Gareth Bale goal saw Wales triumph in Cardiff. The sides are familiar foes having met in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup too and following a 2-0 home loss Wales secured a point in Belgium and are now three matches unbeaten against the Belgians.
This match is most likely to see Wales be the more defensive of the two sides as they sit back and look to contain a Belgian midfield and attack filled with pace, power and creativity. As a result of this, we agree with the match odds from Bet365 that suggest that it’ll be Belgium that progress to the final four stage, but with them severely weakened at the back thanks to their suspensions and injuries we see the Welsh not making it easy for them. Wales are excellent on the break and have the team spirit, quality and confidence from three matches unbeaten against Marc Wilmots’ side that they will need to find the net and, as a result of this, we are backing goals from both of these teams in Lille this Friday night.
Can Wales upset the odds and progress? There is certainly the possibility of them doing so, but we feel that the best value is on goals in this second of the four Quarter Final matches playing in France this weekend.