Yesterday was a thrilling start to the quarter-finals at Euro 2016, as Portugal and Poland battled to penalty kicks. Penalties are always a very tough way to go out, and Poland probably deserved a bit better from that match. Nonetheless, we still got the victory on Poland +0.5 after 90 minutes. The Poles leave the tournament with their heads held high, and they should be equally dangerous in two years time at the World Cup in 2018.
With Portugal advancing without having won a game inside regulation, it also makes you wonder about the tournament format. Portugal has basically been just mediocre enough to somehow get to the semi-finals, and they’ll face the winner of the Wales/Belgium match later today. Wales has been quite the revelation so far in France. They topped their group in the preliminary round, and put in a solid performance against Northern Ireland this past week. That said, they’ve yet to face a team with the quality of Belgium, and it’ll be intriguing to see how they handle their speed and pace when defending.
After a rough start, things seem to have finally clicked for the supremely talented Belgians. Firmly on the hot seat, manager Marc Wilmots has harnessed his energy to putting out the top team since that opening match defeat to Italy. Since then, Belgium has looked lethal on attack, dangerous whenever they enter the opponent’s box. Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne have been magnificent in the midfield, and they should be able to generate a ton of chances against a suspect Welsh backline. One key injury note for the Belgians, is that defender Jan Verthongen is slated to be out for the rest of the tournament. That is a big loss for a Belgium team already thin on defenders. Can Wales capitalize on this? Read on below to find out, along with a full match breakdown and prediction.
Belgium vs. Wales Betting Odds:
Over 2 (-130)
Under 2 (+110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Belgium vs. Wales Pick:
Wales enter as definitely a surprise team to the quarter-finals. They’ve won three of their four matches, and despite not being at their best against a scrappy Northern Ireland squad last week, here they are with a chance to advance to the semi-finals against Belgium. That said, nothing will come easy on Friday afternoon against a high-octane Belgian side that’s finally clicking on all cylinders. The key for Wales will be with their own defense, specifically team captain Ashley Williams’ health and fitness. He must be up to par in ordering his defenders around him and rejecting the advances of the likes of de Bruyne, Hazard, and Lukaku. When the Belgians have been given space and room to operate, they’ve been lethal – as was seen last week against Hungary.
While there is likely no shortage in belief within the Wales camp, this Belgium test will be their stiffest in some time. In qualifying, the Belgians failed to score against the Welsh, but obviously those matches don’t carry the same weight as today’s does. Also worth mentioning, that Belgium had upwards of 60% possession in both games – expect more of the same in the quarter-finals. It’s expected that Wales will look to pack the middle of the pitch and be very compact in their defense, using all 10 out players behind the ball. Even if they do this though, the Belgians are at the absolute top of their games right now, and Hazard and de Bruyne will be able to break that down. Their wide play has been superb of late, and the back three of Wales may not be pacy enough to track Belgium down and keep their advances limited.
Look for Belgium to keep it going offensively against Wales. They’re too dominant on the attack and the Wales back-line has shown some real weaknesses of late. Thinking back to that second half against England, Wales looked helpless on defense, and the Belgians offer a lot more danger and skill than the English do. While I don’t think this will be a complete domination, Belgium at -130 offers some real value to win the match inside 90 minutes. It’s also worth noting that Belgium’s defense is quite decimated. They’ve lost their two best defenders for this match, and are already without their usual captain in Vincent Kompany. How they react with new personnel may be intriguing. Expect both teams to get chances at goal, with the Belgians ultimately prevailing in a thrilling affair.
PICK = Belgium (-130)
Bonus Selection #1: Over 2 (-130) in Wales/Belgium
For reasons mentioned above, I really like this play. At worse, it pushes after 90 minutes. Belgium play a very offensive style, and don’t really know any other way. It’s really when they are at their best, and given the bits of quality the likes of Lukaku, Hazard, and de Bruyne have shown of late, there isn’t a defense in the world that can keep them off the scoresheet. They’ll be putting a ton of pressure on Wales’ back-three. Conversely, Wales has speed and attacking quality of their own. Gareth Bale is a huge talent and given the injuries and omissions to the Belgian back-line, Wales scoring as well in this match seems to be a possibility. I think the Belgians prevail in a high-scoring thriller, with both sides generating chances.