Wales v Belgium, Fri 1st July
Lille, Live on BBC - 8pm
On Friday night Wales meet Belgium in the second Euro 2016 quarter final, at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, for the chance to meet Portugal in the semi finals. Belgium go into the game as favourites but their recent meetings in the qualification campaign will leave Wales with little to fear. The two sides went toe-to-toe twice in qualification with Wales winning 1-0 at the Cardiff City Stadium, thanks to a Gareth Bale strike and the the two sides playing out a 0-0 draw in Brussels back in November.
Wales qualified for the quarter finals by virtue of a scrappy 1-0 win against Northern Ireland in Paris on Saturday. At this stage of a campaign it starts to become all about the results, rather than the performances, so few Welsh supporters will give it too much thought. After a cagy opening 45 minutes in which Northern Ireland created the better chances, Gareth McCauley’s second-half own goal finally settled the tie, when he turned in Gareth Bale’s devastating whipped left-wing cross.
The last time Wales reached the quarter finals of a major tournament, a little 17-year-old lad, by the name of Pele scored his first ever for Brazil. 58-years later, Chris Coleman’s men have the chance to go one step further. Ashley Williams suffered a shoulder injury in the closing stages against Northern Ireland, so Wales will be sweating on his availability, however it is expected that he will start.
Belgium are definitely going to be missing the Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen who is expected to miss up to 4-months following a double tear to his ankle ligaments as well as the former Arsenal centre back Thomas Vermaelen who is suspended after picking up his second booking of the competition against Hungary. Eden Hazard missed training the day after Belgium’s emphatic 4-0 victory over hapless Hungary, although the Chelsea man is expected to be full recovered in time for tonight’s match. Up front, Marc Wilmots has Michy Batshuayi and Romelu Lukaku vying for a starting place and he may to opt to give Batshuayi more game time after his impressive goalscoring cameo against Hungary.
Belgium look to have fully recovered from their earlier group defeat to Italy, and against Hungary and Ireland put in two of the most complete performances of any side at Euro 2016. They won both those games handsomely, scoring seven goals in the process without reply, and have suddenly morphed into genuine tournament contenders. Whether their injury and suspension problems will hinder them too much this evening remains to be seen – Wales will certainly be hoping so.
Belgium will score this evening, of this I am sure. They are simply too full of attacking endeavour not to. The question is: Can Wales offer enough of an attacking threat of their own to level things up? I fancy this one to be far more open than the qualification matches between the two sides, I expect both teams to score and I don’t expect it to go beyond the 90 minute mark.
- Belgium to win and both teams to score @
- Belgium to win 3-1 @
- Eden Hazard to be named man of the match @
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