It’s been a historic campaign for Wales so far, as they have made the quarterfinal of a major tournament for the first time since 1958, where they reached the final eight in the 1958 World Cup hosted by Sweden.
Fast forward 58 years, and Wales are in their first major tournament since that 6th place finish in Sweden. The small nation has performed well in France under manager Chris Coleman, off to a 3-0-1 record with a matchup versus Belgium on the horizon.
Powered by the goal scoring and overall commanding play from Gareth Bale and Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, the Wales contingent won Group B in the preliminary stage. Their lone loss so far came in a 2-1 defeat to England, who was the favourite to run away with the group. Wales picked up two victories over Slovakia and Russia to topple the Three Lions, who were ousted in their Round of 16 matchup against Iceland, 2-1.
After pushing past Northern Ireland, 1-0, on an own goal, the Welsh side finds themselves with a chance to reach their first semifinal in major tournament history when they face off against Belgium in the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on 1 July.
To do it, they will have to get past a Red Devils side that looked awfully impressive in a 4-0 dismantling of Hungary and are still underdogs in the Euro 2016 odds for betting by williamhill online.
Bale and Ramsey will be relied upon heavily to have a chance at accomplishing an advance to the next round, where they would be accompanied by the winner of Portugal or Poland.
Surely with a win on Friday, a victory over Portugal or Poland is possible, two sides that have struggled to score at times, outside of Portugal’s outburst versus Hungary in a 3-3 draw.
If they can win the next two matches, Wales will be in the European Championships Final, something that seemed all but impossible when the tournament first got underway.
However, Wales’ journey through the latter stages of the tournament may hinge upon one player who was banged up in their Round of 16 game.
Swansea City centre back Ashley Williams, Wales’ captain, has been a valuable contributor from the back line as they have conceded three goals in four games. Williams hurt his shoulder in the closing minutes of their contest versus Northern Island, prompting Coleman to confirm that he is expected to play versus Belgium.
In their most recent matchup, Wales defeated Belgium 1-0 in a qualifying match in the summer of 2015. The other leg of the qualification was a scoreless draw.
Belgium are the favourites, but they aren’t unaware of what Ramsey and his Wales teammates can do once the whistle blows.
“Wales are a tricky side to play against, we met them in the qualification games. We didn’t have many chances, they have a very compact unit and a great player up front. We will study them well,” said Belgium captain Eden Hazard.
The offence up front that Hazard alluded to has been a driving force for this Wales squad with Bale and Ramsey. Both players are in form and thriving in the spotlight of France. Bale is tied for the Golden Boot lead alongside Griezmann with three goals after the Cardiff striker had 19 goals and 11 assists in 23 La Liga contests with Real Madrid. He was an integral piece of the Spanish side that won the Champions League.
Meanwhile, Ramsey has been able to be creative with the ball and find space, and more importantly, Bale. The midfielder had five goals and four assists in 31 Premier League appearances with Arsenal this season. A Caerphilly native, Ramsey registered an assist versus Slovakia, and a goal and an assist against Russia.
Despite their offensive firepower, Wales knows they will have to be up to the task, if not more when their quarterfinal gets underway.
“If you go too open against Belgium they’ll go through you like knife through butter. But our team has always done well to step up to the big challenges,” said Coleman.
“Belgium have been here before, this is new for us. We are the underdogs. They will be expected to win, because they are expected to win most games because of the players they’ve got. But football isn’t like that.”
Bale and Ramsey will be at the forefront on Friday 1 July, when the two sides face off at 9pm in Lille.