Football

Belgium primed to become European kings

Our analyst says Welsh are not at the same level and asserts Red Devils can go on and become European kings

QUARTER-FINAL

WALES v BELGIUM

(Tomorrow, 2.50am, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)

It is three wins out of three for Belgium, with eight goals scored and none conceded. Have the Red Devils picked up a winning momentum?

SABLON: Yes. Belgium did not start so good in this tournament, had one good second half against Ireland, and the 4-0 win over Hungary in the Round of 16 was their first good match in Euro 2016.

Hungary were not so tough and, while there are no easy games at this level, Belgium definitely have a better pathway to the final than the other half of the draw.

Belgium collected just one point in two games against Wales during the qualifiers, but it is fair to say they are not as strong as Germany, Italy or France.

It is an absolutely unique opportunity so, yes of course, there is a belief in the Belgium camp that they can go all the way.

You said before the Round of 16 that Belgium have yet to play to their best. Were they close to that in the win over Hungary?

It was close. Belgium played very fast and created a lot of space for players like Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne.

In defence, Belgium also have not conceded since losing 2-0 to Italy in their tournament opener, and they have the best goalkeeper in the world in Thibaut Courtois.

Thomas Vermaelen is suspended and Jan Vertonghen is injured. How would you re-organise Belgium to cope with the loss of the defenders?

It is a real pity to have to make do without Vermaelen, who is an excellent defender in terms of strength and tactical awareness, but it's extra bad news to lose Vertonghen for the rest of the tournament.

I would pair Toby Alderweireld with Jason Denayer in central defence because Alderweireld is the most experienced defender left in the team, while Denayer played against Wales in the qualifiers and is a strong centre back.

Jordan Lukaku - the younger brother of striker Romelu - will be left back and Thomas Meunier will be right back.

It is not ideal to lose so many key defenders before a crucial game, and we are already without Vincent Kompany before the start of the tournament, so this is a real test of character and a big opportunity for the younger players to step up.

What do you make of the decision to give the captain's armband to Hazard? Will he be the key individual against Wales?

I have seen him play like this before in the national youth teams, but his performance against Hungary was the first time he played so well in a Belgium shirt at the senior level.

He was made captain after a discussion among the players.

Coach Marc Wilmots has a sense of what the players want as a team and so far the decision to make Hazard captain has worked.

Hazard is really developing at the top level and he will be key because of his ability.

He can be to Belgium what Gareth Bale is to Wales and Cristiano Ronaldo is to Portugal.

Play one or two more games like he did against Hungary and he will be the best player at Euro 2016.

The good news for Belgium is, although he has a hamstring complaint, he trained and should be fit to start.

Talking about Bale's Wales and the record during qualifying, how can they hurt Belgium again?

Chris Coleman's style is to leave the ball to the opponents, and Wales are very strong defensively, making it difficult for opponents to find space.

The only way to overcome this is for Belgium play as fast as they did against Hungary, put pressure on the Welsh fullbacks Neil Taylor and Chris Gunter and draw their centre backs out to provide cover.

This will create more space for Belgium, and that's how Wales can be beaten.

Of course, Belgium cannot afford to ignore Bale, who has been excellent with seven goals in qualifying, and three goals and one assist in this tournament already.

Belgium have to control him, not by man-to-man but with zonal defending.

Defensive midfielders like Radja Nainggolan and Axel Witsel have to deny him the space to shoot and, at the same time, also not give away free-kicks because Bale is so dangerous with the dead ball.

Your prediction?

As a Belgian, I'm not objective if you are asking me to pick a winner. I hope Belgium will qualify because I'm absolutely sure they are the better team, so I'm going with 1-0 or 2-0 win to Belgium.

  • Michel Sablon, the Football Association of Singapore's technical director, was talking to David Lee. The 68-year-old former Belgian FA technical director is credited for developing the blueprint that produced Belgium's current golden generation of footballers.

Our squad are on a cloud right now and the players have every right to be positive about our form going into the quarterfinals and about our chances of going much further in this tournament.

— Belgium's Vincent Kompany, who misses out on Euro 2016 due to injury

 

Five talking points about Wales v Belgium

1 BALE v HAZARD

The match within the match is the battle between Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard.

Two of the greatest talent in world football, two free-kick experts and two undisputed match-winners.

The last time they shared the same international pitch a year ago, Bale came up with the winner in Wales' 1-0 victory.

Wales managed to shut Hazard out by crowding him whenever he had possession that night, but the Chelsea forward is in fine form and Belgium will be praying he has fully recovered from a leg injury to play.

With three goals in this tournament, Bale has already made his mark at Euro 2016 - and their private battle might go a long way to deciding which nation make the last four.

2 SHOULDERING ON

Wales captain Ashley Williams was in great pain at the end of their last-16 victory over Northern Ireland in Paris last Saturday.

The centre back (above) suffered an awkward fall after colliding with teammate Jonathan Williams, damaging his shoulder but somehow getting through the closing moments.

Wales are confident that Williams will be fit to take his place against Belgium, but he looked in discomfort at a public training session on Tuesday.

James Collins would be a worthy replacement, but Williams has been the rock at the heart of a well-organised Wales defence for some years now. His absence would be a huge blow for Wales.

3 DEVILS AND THEIR DEMONS

Belgium's Red Devils have risen to the top of the world rankings in the past and currently sit at No. 2 on the Fifa list.

So you would think this stellar squad have little to get uptight about - except that they have failed to beat Wales in three games over the last two-and-a-half years.

Paired together in the last two qualifying campaigns, Wales fought out 1-1 and 0-0 draws in Brussels before that memorable win in Cardiff a year ago.

Look at the two teams on paper and there would only appear one winner, but Belgium must hurdle a psychological obstacle to exorcise their Welsh demons and prove Chris Coleman's side are not their bogey team.

4 BLOND AMBITION

Ever since Aaron Ramsey turned to the peroxide bottle on the eve of the Euros, the Arsenal midfielder has been determined to show that blonds have more fun.

While Bale has dominated headlines and column inches with his spectacular goals and regular appearances before the media, Ramsey (above) has run the show from midfield.

So much so that it could be argued that he has had a better tournament than Bale thus far - with two assists, one goal and more tackles won in the final third than any other player at Euro 2016.

Ramsey can run all day and, if Belgium allow him to find space in front of their back four, then they could be dicing with danger.

5 PITCH IMPERFECT

The condition of the Stade Pierre Mauroy surface at Lille remains a concern, despite a new pitch being relaid by Uefa.

The surface was in a poor state after hosting four matches at the group stage, with officials blaming torrential rain for its condition.

Uefa responded by importing a new pitch from Holland for Germany's last-16 win over Slovakia.

With more rain forecast ahead of the game, Uefa will be hoping that the pitch does not cut up and provide embarrassing pictures before a television audience of millions.

- PA Sport.

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QUARTER-FINAL

WALES v BELGIUM

(Tomorrow, 3am, Stade Pierre Mauroy)

BET ON BELGIUM

TNP PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

TNP SOCCER BABE AVVREY LIM

Belgium are on fire. They defeated Hungary 4-0 in the last 16 and I believe they have what it takes to beat Wales.

Marc Wilmots' men are high on confidence and are playing like true champions.

If they can maintain their form, I believe the Euro 2016 title will be theirs.

With Eden Hazard leading the line, it is almost certain that we will be able to see spectacular goals from him once again.

 It won't be as easy as how it was against Hungary, because Wales have Real Madrid star Gareth Bale. But I believe Belgium will win 3-1.

 

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