On the greatest night in their football history, Wales came back from behind to beat Belgium 3-1 to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016 at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille. We take a look at the seven things we learned from the game.
On the back of an emphatic 4-0 win over Hungary in the Round of 16, Belgium headed into the Euro 2016 quarter-finals as the favourites to win the game and progress to the semi-final. Despite several injury problems at the back, the Red Devils opened the game in dominant fashion taking the lead through Radja Nainggolan after 13 minutes. The AS Roma midfielder scored a long range beauty, but his stunning effort did little to discourage Wales and take them off their course. Chris Coleman’s men never gave up and fought hard to earn their much-deserved win after an unbelievable comeback with goals from Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes, who sent The Dragons through to their first ever last-four appearance in a major competition.
Injuries hurt Belgium
The three men Marc Wilmots desperately needed playing last night were sat in the stands. Injuries have left Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen sidelined, while Thomas Vermaelen watched on as he served his suspension. That forced Belgium to start two relatively inexperienced players on the left side of their defence in Jordan Lukaku and Jason Denayer. The pair actually started the game quite well, but once Wales started focusing more of their attacking efforts on them, they quickly unravelled and became a liability. Lukaku became too easy for Wales’ attacking runs to turn, and Denayer made Robson-Kanu look like world class talent. Both the players also became a liability on set pieces and Williams’ equaliser was the perfect example of it. Had any of the trio been on the pitch things would have been different.
Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen run the show
Gareth Bale deservedly grabs a lot of headlines but you can’t underestimate the contribution of the midfield duo behind him. They are equally worth lauding and have been sensational throughout Euro 2016. Joe Allen feels undervalued under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and is considering his options this summer but after his performances in France, he won’t be short of offers. The Welsh Pirlo has been one of the unsung heroes and makes this Wales team tick, the heartbeat of every attack as well as defensive reorganisation. Aaron Ramsey has also warranted praise for his work in the engine room of the Wales’ midfield. His industry to charge forward, supporting the main striker and giving Bale another outlet, has been crucial to Wales’ play. He might be inconsistent for Arsenal but he has been pivotal in his nation’s success this tournament and it’s a pity he’ll miss the semi-final clash with Portugal.
Yellow cards rule needs to change
We were blessed with the genius idea of expanding the tournament and allowing the third placed teams to make the last 16 which has been good – see Wales and Iceland’s inclusion – but there are also some ideas that have been a failure. Among the worst is the fact that yellow cards are not wiped out until the semi-finals. That means you can be booked in the first group game, not put a foot wrong for another three-and-a-half matches, but then miss the semi-final. Yes, fair play is important but common sense even more so. Because of this Wales will be without Ramsey and Ben Davies for the last four encounter against Portugal, which is a crying shame.
Lukaku fails to prove his worth
It was interesting to see Romelu Lukaku talk about wanting to play for a bigger club ahead of this tournament. It felt as if he wanted to prove his worth to his potential suitors to pay the reported £65m fee. But after his performances in France, he should be grateful he’s at a club like Everton because he has been poor, to say the least, in every game bar one (against the Republic of Ireland). The former Chelsea forward was unable to lead the line correctly. His movement, link-up play and finishing were all way off the mark. Yes, he’s just 23 but he’s got over 150 Premier League appearances and just had one of the most productive seasons in his professional career. He can have no excuse for his poor displays in a team full of star players. It would be ridiculous for any club to pay over £40m – let alone £65m – for his services.
Individuals win you games, teams win you Championships
Remember England’s so-called Golden Generation? Well, there seems to a similar pattern with the Belgian equivalent. A side boasting talent like Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld, Nainggolan, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Lukaku shone in patches, but were unable to provide the answers when called upon. They played like a group of individuals trying to grab the headlines for themselves than rather playing as a team and winning as a team. On the other hand, just like Monday night – when Iceland, a country with a population the size of Leicester, beat England – a group outplayed a collection of individuals. Outsmarting, out-battling and out-thinking their opposition, Coleman’s men worked as a collective unit and deservedly secured the win. That’s what you need. In football, individuals will win you games with a moment of magic, but teams will win you championships.
Echoes of history
Wales are living a dream at this moment. Coleman and his team have already made history by earning their right to fight at a major tournament after more than 50 years and their dream has gone beyond the qualification, group stages, knockouts all the way to their first ever semi-final in a major tournament. Wales reached this stage of the competition in brilliant fashion, with a string of outstanding performances. Up next is Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal who haven’t won a single game in regular time. Wales won’t be getting carried away with that fact but this campaign has real echoes of history. It was in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004 that Greece delivered their first real statement win, dumping France. Denmark, too, really announced themselves by beating the Netherlands in 1992. Wales have taken the first step, can they go on to make history?
This article is written by Shantanu Ambekar, you can follow him on Twitter at @ShantanuAmbekar. What are your thoughts? Let us know by dropping a comment via our comments box below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and like us on Facebook.