Wales v Belgium - Expert v Expert Preview

Lille is the setting for Wales’s biggest game in 58 years, as the Dragons line up in the quarter-finals of a major tournament for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.

Favourites Belgium – who Wales remained unbeaten against in qualifying – provide the opposition, and Mark Jones and John Chapman are on hand with the preview.



Mark Jones on Wales: You get the impression that it was going to take something a lot more serious than a severely bruised shoulder to keep Ashley Williams out of this game, and the Wales captain has declared himself fit despite being seen with his arm in a sling in the aftermath of the victory over Northern Ireland.

Chris Coleman used his substitutes well in that game, with both Hal Robson-Kanu and Jonny Williams making positive impacts when they came on, but I’d expect him to keep the same starting lineup here.

Ben Davies, Neil Taylor, Aaron Ramsey and Sam Vokes are all a booking away from a suspension, but Wales can’t afford to think too far ahead.

John Chapman on Belgium: At Friday’s press conference, Marc Wilmots confirmed that Jan Vertonghen is out for the rest of the EUROs with ligament damage. That comes on top of Thomas Vermaelen’s suspension.

He could bring two youngsters - Jordan Lukaku and Jason Denayer – into defence or opt for the more experienced Laurent Ciman. I feel he will go for the former. The other almost certain change should see Yannick Carrasco start on the right wing, replacing Dries Mertens who disappointed against Hungary. Finally, Wilmots is probably thinking about one other switch; the more mobile Chelsea-bound Michy Batshuayi instead of Romelu Lukaku.



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Jones: The Northern Ireland game was quite unlike anything that Wales have experienced before, with Coleman’s side treated with maximum respect as they sought to break down a stubborn, obdurate opposition who probably had the better of a dour game for an hour, in relative terms.

It meant that there was never the kind of space available that Wales enjoyed in the win over Russia, and Coleman’s side never quite adjusted to being the ‘big boys’ in the game, although they eventually ground out the result in the way that elite teams do when they’re not at their best, something that Belgium failed to do in the two Euro 2016 qualifiers between these sides.

Chapman: The figures look good, Belgium have the most wins, most goals and most attempts on goal of any team in the tournament. It’s a remarkable turnaround from the beginning of EURO 2016 when Belgium lost to Italy.

It must be remembered though that the three victories have not been against teams of the highest class. Certainly, Wilmots has found a good combination in midfield – Axel Witsel, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin De Bruyne, that is driving the team forward. On the other hand, let’s not forget that Wales have also won three games and are the second-highest scorers behind Belgium.   



Wales v Northern Ireland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016 : News Photo

Jones: Keeping two clean sheets and taking four points off Belgium was the cornerstone of Wales’s qualifying campaign, and both matches featured hugely impressive displays from West Bromwich Albion defender James Chester, who has been in fine form in France.

Wales’s man of the match against Northern Ireland, Chester will be stationed on the right side of the three-man central defence, where his duty will be to keep an eye on the runs of the dangerous Eden Hazard as he looks to cut inside.

Chapman: Yannick Carrasco. All eyes will be on Eden Hazard and De Bruyne on Friday night. But over on the right wing, I expect Atletico’s Carrasco to start and have a big impact on the game.

He has only played a handful of international games but he’s one of the most complete attacking players in the squad. Carrasco has the speed and strength to cause problems for the Welsh defence. He scored Atletico’s only goal in the Champions League final with Real Madrid and will not be fazed by the big occasion. 



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Jones: I’ve delved into the stat bets for this one, and (if he starts) Romelu Lukaku at 2.60 to be caught offside more times than Aaron Ramsey seems like a winner to me. The Welsh defence will know the Everton forward inside out, and he’s hardly been at his best this tournament.

Chapman: I’m going for my favourite punt again. Belgium to win with over 2.5 goals at 3.10.



Russia v Wales - Group B: UEFA Euro 2016 : News Photo

Jones: Can the run go on? If it does it is very likely to be in a dramatic fashion.

Belgium are a formidable outfit with great players, but there’s something else driving Wales at this tournament, and that sense of togetherness could ensure that this one goes all the way.

Wales to win on penalties is at 13.00.

Chapman: With Belgium having to reconstruct the defence, I’m going for goals and Belgium to win 3-2 at 33.00.



Jones: Wales 1-1 Belgium at 7.00, then bring on the penalties… 

Chapman: Wales 2-3 Belgium at 33.00