Ben Clark looks at how Wales beat the world number two and why they’re in the last four of Euro 2016
The big news from the lineups was that Belgium were forced into making two changes in their backline. Jan Vertonghen was out injured whilst Thomas Vermaelen was out suspended. In addition, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco replaced Dries Mertens in the attacking midfield trio. Wales made one change with Hal Robson-Kanu replacing Sam Vokes up top.
Considering Belgium have a ranking of world number two, there was nothing fluky about this result. They were run ragged by Wales and the Welsh continuously had the upper hand on them. Belgium started the first 20 very well - but after then, Wales were fully deserving of the victory and that is exactly what they got.
What Bale ‘lacked’ in attacking contributions he more than made up for in defensive work.
Before this game - and every other game - Bale has repeatly said that wearing the Red Dragon on his chest was the only motivation he needed.
As he prepares to go up against his Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo in the semi-final, the Welshman has deserved all the credit he has been given and has the upper hand against the Portuguese superstar going into next week’s game.
Against Belgium, he didn’t dazzle the Belgium defence; nor did he score the winner. What he ‘lacked’ in attacking contributions he more than made up for in defensive work.
Bale finished second in ball recoveries for his side. He also won 4/4 tackles - the only other player who could match that on the field was Jason Denayer for Belgium.
— Stats Zone (@StatsZone) July 1, 2016
These stats are can't be compared to those of Ronaldo because, well, he hasn't put his shift in like the Welshman has. Bale has continiously been seen working hard for the Welsh going back but for Ronaldo, this is a rare sight.
That fluid formation
Belgium massively struggled in their first game against Italy - any guesses as to what formation the Italians operated with?
The Red Devils were outplayed that night, not being able to cope defensively, and overall, looked very poor. Though it’s arguable that the Belgium defence hasn’t looked solid since, and defensive injuries have taken their toll, Wales showed them up again this evening.
The width that Chris Coleman's brought to the game was decisive in killing off Belgium. Continuously, Wales dragged them out wide and crossed the ball into the box where a frantic Belgian defence would attempt to clear the ball clear.
Wales scored all three of their goals from crosses (including a corner). Italy scored one from a cross too. Coincidence? Probably not.
Coming into this game, Wales regained their favourable tag of underdogs again.
Coming into this competition, Wales were expected to get out of their group consisting of England, Russia and Slovakia. With an additional third spot potentially available, there was no pressure on Wales to succeed.
Things changed when they played Northern Ireland in the last 16 though. All of a sudden, they were the favourites and they had to live up to that billing. Northern Ireland played Wales at their own game and very nearly won, had it not been for the tricky nature of Bale’s ball which ended up being converted into his own goal by Gareth McAuley.
Coming into this game, Wales regained their favourable tag of underdogs again. The pressure was on Belgium, who playing three miles from their own country, were expected to turn up tonight and progress into the semi-finals. They did not meet that expectation.
Wales will be underdogs once more against Portugal and as everyone gets ready for Bale vs Ronaldo, Chris Coleman can go to sleep knowing that - even though his side represent dragons - he just needs to reassure them they’re underdogs throughout this entire tournament.
The Arsenal midfielder won't be eligible for their last four clash with Portugal but there is no denying the impact he has had on this Welsh team during this tournament. Ramsey finished the game against Belgium having created six chances for his side - two of which were converted. In comparison, Belgium managed 11 as a team.
It now falls on the shoulders of Bale and Wales's midfielders to create the chances created by a player who has been just as important as the Real Madrid man.