Euro 2016 preview: Belgium hitting top form just in time for Wales clashPublished June 30, 2016
Historically the weakest team of the four, Wales could make history in qualifying for the semi-finals. The only other time they qualified for a major tournament, in 1958, a 17-year-old Pele scored his first goal for Brazil to end Wales’ journey in Sweden. It has taken 58 years for the nation to find their way back to a major competition, but Coleman’s side now have the chance to go further than the famous Welsh squad of 1958.
Wales are certainly a test for any team having topped their group which included England, Russia and Slovakia, only dropping points thanks to Daniel Sturridge’s last minute toe-poke. They beat Russia comfortably 3-0 and beat Slovakia 2-1 in their opening game.
Their star is undoubtedly Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, but other stars have shone through alongside him as they progressed. Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, Liverpool’s Joe Allen and captain Swansea’s Ashley Williams, have all played major roles in getting Wales this far.
Belgium were among the favourites going into the tournament, especially as number two in the world FIFA rankings. However, the Euros started in desperate fashion for them when they lost to what many thought was an ageing and decidedly unspectacular Italian team 0-2. Then they thrashed the Republic of Ireland 3-0 with Everton striker Romelu Lukaku scoring twice before Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan’s superb 25-yard strike secured Belgium’s place in the last 16 with a labored 1-0 win over Sweden.
Nevertheless, in their last game, Belgium finally looked the part, ripping through Hungary 4-0. Eden Hazard, especially, looked like the player of a year ago and ran the Hungarian defence ragged, including a mazy solo goal ten minutes from time.
The most promising Belgium squad since Guy Thys’ 1980 runners-up suggested they could be set to fulfil their potential on the big stage.
Perhaps Belgium are peaking at the right moment, and this could be their year. Either way, if they play half as well against Wales as they did against Hungary it will be hard to bet against Marc Wilmots’ team.