Familiar foes Wales and Belgium collide in Lille on Friday with a semifinal berth on the line. Due to its close proximity to the Belgian border (just 6.8 miles away) there is expected to be over 150,000 Belgians in Lille for the game.
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The traveling Welsh fans will have to have their famous voices ready to go that extra mile to drown out the din from the Belgian faithful.
There’s no doubt that Belgium are the favorites. Ranked as the no. 1 team in the world up until recently, Marc Wilmots’ team have looked better as the tournament has gone on, and so has Hazard.
Chelsea’s wing wizard was majestic against Hungary in the Round of 16 win and back at Lille, his former club, Belgium’s captain will be their main man. Then again, they’re stacked with talent throughout but a defensive issue has cropped up as Jan Vertonghen’s tournament is over due to damaging ankle ligaments in training, plus Thomas Vermaelen is suspended.
There’s no doubt this is Wales’ biggest game since 1958 when they reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Sweden and Bale is in fine form, scoring three goals in the group stages and setting up the winner in the Round of 16 against Northern Ireland.
Manager Chris Coleman has issued a warning to Belgium before the game: you are in for a battle.
“When it’s time to defend, we’ll defend for our lives and when it’s time to attack, we’ll attack for our lives,” Coleman said “If we do that, Belgium are in for a hell of a game.”
In fact, Belgium should be well aware of that. In qualifying for this tournament Belgium lost 1-0 in Wales and drew against them 1-1 in Brussels. They also met in 2014 World Cup qualifying and both teams know each other inside out.
That should make for a fiery, passionate encounter as they know a less than impressive Portugal side await in the semifinal in Lyon next Wednesday.
I’m going to go ahead and say it: whoever wins this game will reach the EURO 2016 final. The stakes are high.
In team news Hazard has shaken off a knock to be ready, while Jason Denayer and Jordan Lukaku will likely come into defense for Belgium. Wales’ skipper Ashley Williams should also be fit, while Ben Davies, Aaron Ramsey, Neil Taylor and Sam Vokes will all miss the semifinal if they receive a yellow card.
Wales vs. Belgium
When: Friday, 3 p.m. ET – Live on NBCSports.com
Where: Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille
Key Battle: Gareth Bale vs. Toby Alderweireld
Prediction: Belgium to win 2-1 – Eden Hazard is on form and Gareth Bale can’t do it all on his own. A strong effort from Wales but Belgium will just have too much in attack.