The Panenka

A blog dedicated to European Football, World Soccer and the Road to Russia 2018

EURO 2016 Preview: Wales vs Belgium

gareth-bale-aaron-ramsey

The winner of this quarter-final will set up a semi-final with either Poland or Portugal.

Wales take on Belgium in the last-8 of Euro 2016 on July 1 in Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille. Kick off is at 3:00 PM ET.

This game pits two sides against each other who will know each other very well after they met home and away during qualification. Despite winning neither of those games De Rode Duivels will still be considered favorites in France at Euro 2016.

Belgium were in danger of becoming one of the flops of the tournament after their tepid performance against Italy in their opening game. The Red Devils’ wealth of attacking options was blunted by Italy’s defensive coordination in an opening day 2-0 defeat.

Inspired by a Romelu Lukaku brace, Belgium went on to lift the pressure on themselves with an emphatic 2nd half display to dispatch Republic of Ireland 3-0. Axel Witsel chipped in with the other, his third goal at major tournaments.

In their final group game, returning midfielder Radja Nainggolan spoilt Sweden’s farewell to skipper Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a 25-yeard strike to take all three points in a 1-0 victory.

In the last-16 Marc Wilmot’s men made light work of putting Hungary to the sword to advance to the quarter-final. Jan Vertonghen opened the scoring with a commanding header before Eden Hazard began orchestrating proceedings. The Chelsea midfielder set up Michy Batshuayi 12 minutes from time before adding one himself with a smart finish. Yannick Carrasco rounded off the 4-0 win to score his first international goal.

Wales reached the quarter-final with a 1-0 victory over fellow Home Nation Northern Ireland. In a tense game in Paris, Chris Coleman’s side ran out 1-0 winners after capitalizing on a Craig Cathcart own goal. Despite losing 2-1 to England after conceding in the dying moments of the game, Wales qualified for the last-16 in top spot in Group B.

Before the England defeat, the Dragons gave themselves every opportunity of advancing to the knock out stage with a 2-1 win over Slovakia in their first game. Hal Robson-Kanu emerged from the bench to seal the win late in the game after Garth Bale’s opener.

Wales made sure of their progression with a resounding 3-0 victory over Russia. Aaron Ramsey opened scoring before a landmark goal from left-back Neil Taylor doubled their lead inside 20 minutes. Gareth Bale eventually added the 3rd midway through the second-half.

Of the 12 meetings between these two sides Belgium have won five while Wales have won four, the remaining three have ended in draws. The two teams met in qualification for Euro 2016 where the Welsh one once and drew the other, furthermore they did not concede a single goal.

In the last meeting between the sides a Wales victory through Gareth Bale in Cardiff raised expectations of reaching their first major tournament since 1954. The game in Lille will be the first time the two sides have met at on the big stage.

Team News

Wales 

The good news for Wales is that captain and center-back Ashley Williams is fit and available for selection against Belgium. The Swansea City defender fell an injured his arm late in the game against Northern Ireland and appeared to be playing through the pain barrier during the tense final stages.

Chris Coleman is without any suspensions and is expected to name a largely unchanged line up to the side which got him to this stage of the competition. The only possible question within the squad that remains is over who will start in the second striker’s role between Hal Robson Kanu, Sam Vokes and Johnny Williams.

Wales will line up in a 5-3-2 formation and should still have both Joe Ledley and Wayne Hennessy available, each of whom struggled with injuries earlier in Euro 2016.

Belgium will head into the match as strong favorites but Chris Coleman insist that his team prefer to be labeled as underdogs.

“We were edgy going into the Northern Ireland game as we were expected to win and we work better as the underdog,” manager Coleman said. “We have proved that and people will expect Belgium to win.

“They had some criticism coming into the tournament and they lost the first game. But if you have a squad with that quality then any team you play against, apart from maybe two of three, Belgium are favorites.”

Wales drew with Belgium in Brussels and won 1-0 in Cardiff just over a year ago when Gareth Bale’s winner all but booked their place at this European Championship.

“We have dealt with it before and we will be up against it,” Coleman said. “We have had to face that quality, as they are a top team. We will be the underdogs, but we won’t fear Belgium.

“When teams go for us and play open, we can do a lot of damage,” he added.

Predicted Line Up: Hennessey; Gunter, Chester, A Williams, Davies, Taylor; Ledley, Allen, Ramsey, Williams; Bale. 

 

Belgium

Eden Hazard is an injury concern for Belgium after he sat out training this week after picking up a knock while putting in a virtuoso performance in the win over Hungary. However, coach Marc Wilmots expects him to be “100 percent on Thursday,” the day before the game with Wales.

Thomas Vermaelen is suspended for the Euro 2016 game in Lille leaving a decision to be made in regards to the back four. Jan Vertonghen has sat alongside Toby Alderweireld all season long and this partnership could be reignited leaving the side unbalanced without a natural right back. Jason Denayer, Christian Kabasele and Jordan Lukaku could all play at center-back or deputize out of position at right-back.

Despite Michy Batshuayi getting on the score sheet against Hungary, Romelu Lukaku is likely to continue at center-forward. With Maroanne Fellaini likely to continue on the bench and Witsel and Nainggolan due to continue their flourishing partnership in the middle of midfield, the only question over the midfield starters is if Dries Mertens or Yannick Carrasco will get the nod.

In the aftermath of the convincing 4-0 victory over Hungary Marc Wilmots seemed determined not to get too carried away by the victory.

“For the time being we have achieved nothing, we are just in the quarters and we will take it one game at a time,” he said.

Wilmots also reserved special praise for man of the match Eden Hazard. “A captain can’t always do his talking with his mouth — sometimes you have to do your talking with your feet and that’s what he did today.”

 Predicted Line Up: Courtois; Meunier, Alderweireld, Denayer, Vertonghen; Nainggolan, Witsel, Carrasco, De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku.

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