Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Wales v Belgium
Wales took four points off Belgium en-route to France and the Dragons will be hoping for more success in Lille on Friday night as the two nations go head-to-head for a place in the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
Wales v Belgium, Friday 1st July 20.00, BBC
Chris Coleman’s men have been one of the stories of Euro 2016 so far. In only their second appearance at a major tournament, Wales have again reached the knockout stages despite landing just one shot-on-target against Northern Ireland – Gareth Bale’s free-kick – in a tense last-16 encounter.
Gareth McAuley’s own goal proved decisive at the Parc des Princes but Northern Ireland shaded much of the game and largely snuffed out Wales’ attacking threat, but they also lacked a cutting edge in attack.
Chris Coleman’s side were blunted by their dogged opponents, but the scrappy nature of victory and the winning goal mattered little to their jubilant fans.
Northern Ireland’s intention to frustrate their opponents was clear, depriving Wales of space with a careful pressing game held together by rigid positional discipline. Having beaten Russia so impressively in their final group game, the Dragons seemed neutered by Northern Ireland’s containing strategy.
Coleman’s men had struggled for goals during qualifying – scoring 11 in 10 matches – and their last-16 tie demonstrated their occasional shortcomings against well-organised defences.
Nevertheless, Wales have trailed for only 2 minutes and 31 seconds in total over their first four fixtures, scoring in each contest, and should see more opportunity to contain and counter themselves against a Belgium side that sauntered into the last-eight.
Since losing their opener 2-0 against Italy, Belgium have racked up three consecutive wins ‘to nil’, notching eight goals. The Red Devils are now the top scoring side at Euro 2016 thanks to their 4-0 thumping of Hungary last time out.
It was arguably the most dominant display of the competition thus far and their favourable draw has seen Belgium shorten up into third favourites to go the distance in France this summer.
Despite Belgium’s progress, they have been ravaged by talk of in-fighting and criticism of their manager Marc Wilmots, who has consistently come up short in recent years.
The Red Devils do have a wonderful array of individual talent though and they have spent much of this tournament on the front foot. Eden Hazard really came to the fore against Hungary and having underwhelmed at the 2014 World Cup, the most promising Belgium squad since Guy Thys’ 1980 runners-up are now promising to fulfil their potential on the big stage.
At times, they made hard work of it against the Magyars, but they did create 25 efforts on goal.
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne had seven of those, including a brilliant first-half free-kick with the 24-year-old also providing two of the four assists.
Both De Bruyne and Hazard were the most potent weapons with the Red Devils firing in a tournament-high 84 attempts on goal and a Welsh defence that’s possibly without skipper Ashley Williams is likely to come under serious threat.
Wilmots will have to reshuffle his own defence with Thomas Vermaelen’s suspension but even so, the pre-match favourites appear to have more in their favour and are understandably odds-on (3/4) to clinch progress in 90 minutes.
Naturally I favour Belgium here. However, I’m not too keen on the quotes on offer so we’ll have to dig a little deeper to find a decent value shot to support.
For starters, seven of Belgium’s eight goals at Euro 2016 have been scored after half-time.
It may take time to break down the Welsh defence and with that in mind, supporting Draw-Belgium at 3/1 is well worth a wager.
And considering between 1980 and 2012, 42% of European Championship knockout ties went into extra-time – two-thirds of which were decided on penalties – I’m also keen to support the Red Devils at 17/2 to succeed in extra-time as a back-up for our 90 minute punt.
Draw-Belgium @ 3/1
Belgium to win in extra-time @ 17/2
*Prices correct at time of publication.