It is a clash between Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard, as Wales take on Belgium in the quarterfinal of the 2016 European Championships at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, in Lille on Friday.
The two teams had faced each other during the Euro 2016 qualifiers, with the Welsh coming out on top on aggregate. But given Belgium’s performances this tournament, they have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with. They are currently the highest ranked team in Europe, and have an array of stars to get the job done for them.
However, what Wales lack in star power, they make up for with their team chemistry, as they have shown in this tournament, by topping Group B, which had good teams like England, Slovakia, and Russia.
Team News & Tactical Brief
The biggest news for Wales ahead of their quarterfinal tie against Belgium is that their captain Ashley Williams has been declared fit to take part in the match. The Swansea City defender suffered an injury in the match against Northern Ireland on Saturday. The Welsh medical staff had to put Williams’ arm in a sling after the match.
However, the Wales captain has recovered sufficiently from his injury, and is ready to start at the heart of the Welsh defence on Friday.
Wales head-coach Chris Coleman is expected to set his side up defensively against the Red Devils. The Dragons are expected to line up in the 3-5-1-1 formation, which is more likely to turn into a 5-3-1-1 formation as the game progresses. They are likely to sit back and defend, and hit the Belgians on the counter attack.
However, the Welsh outfit have a real biting force up front in the form of Gareth Bale, who is expected to operate behind central striker Sam Vokes.
Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey will be the main driving force in the middle of the park, as he will operate from the tip of the midfield triangle. However, Joe Allen would be the main play-making influence, as the “Welsh Pirlo” will be looking to thread clever passes through to the attackers.
Possible Starting XI (3-5-1-1): Hennessey; Davies, Williams, Chester; Taylor, Ramsey, Ledley, Allen, Gunter; Bale; Vokes.
There is some mixed news for the Belgians ahead of the match against Wales. Captain Eden Hazard, who was doubtful for the game due to a thigh injury, has been declared fit to play. The Chelsea winger has been influential for Belgium in their Euro 2016 campaign so far, averaging an assist per game in Belgium’s last three matches. He was extremely effective in Belgium’s round of 16 game against Hungary, where he also managed to find the back of the net.
While Hazard’s inclusion will be a boon for the Red Devils, they have some bad news in defence. Defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen have been ruled out of the game. Vermaelen is suspended for the match, and will be available once again, if the Belgians make it through to the semifinals of the competition. However, Vertonghen has been ruled out of the tournament, as he suffered from a twisted knee in training.
This puts head coach Marc Wilmots in quite a quandry, has he has already had to rule Manchester City centre-back Vincent Kompany out of his 23-man squad for the Euros, due to a long term injury. Jason Denayer is set to start in the heart of the defence alongside Toby Alderweireld, while Jordan Lukaku, brother of Romelu Lukaku is expected to replace Vertonghen at left back.
Belgium are expected to line-up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, with Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens acting as the three creative players behind central striker Romelu Lukaku, while Axel Witsel and Radja Nainggolan play the two pivoting roles in midfield.
However, Wales play a system that is quite similar to how Italy played, when they crushed Belgium 2-0 in the opening match of Group E. The Belgians could find it rather difficult to break down the Welsh, who are likely to outnumber the Red Devils in the middle of the park.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Courtois; J.Lukaku, Denayer, Alderweireld, Meunir; Nainggolan, Witsel; Hazard, De Bruyne, Mertens; R.Lukaku.
- Wales have never made it to the semifinals of a major international tournament.
- All the three goals that Wales have conceded in the Euro 2016 campaign have been scored by substitutes, after the 56th minute.
- Subsequently, Belgium have scored six of their eight goals in the tournament, in the last half hour of the matches.
- Eden Hazard has provided three assists in four Euro 2016 matches so far. His assists tally in the entire 2015/16 Premier League campaign was also three.
- Belgium have been unable to score against Wales in their last two meetings in the Euro qualifiers.
Players to watch out for
Gareth Bale, Wales
The Real Madrid star is the real driving force behind Wales’s attacks in this tournament. While he operates in a different role for Wales (centre forward), Bale has shown that he can adapt himself to help his country progress deeper into the tournament. Apart from his overall play, Bale is also a huge threat from set pieces.
Eden Hazard, Belgium
The Chelsea man has come back to form just at the right moment, as Belgium look to go deeper into the tournament. Although he was largely rendered ineffective in their first match against Italy, Hazard has shown character to come back and provide an assist each in his last three matches for the Red Devils. Being the captain, his contribution will be crucial to Belgium’s fortunes.
Wales 2-3 Belgium
Although Wales are more of a defensive side, their counter-attacks can be extremely effective. This is something that they will be looking to use, against a patched-up Belgium defence, in order to score the goals. However, Belgium look too strong on paper for their opponents, and are likely to make it through to the semifinals.
Blast from the past