Belgium entered their quarterfinal match with Wales fresh of the heals of their impressive 4-0 win over Hungary in the round of 16. On their part, the Welsh were just able to squeeze a 1-0 victory out of their match with Northern Ireland. Both teams were hoping to book their ticket to the semifinals to face off against Portugal. Each squad has seen their superstars perform extremely well so far. Gareth Bale has impressed with his exceptional free kicks and energy while Eden Hazard put on an all around show against Hungary.
Two members of Belgium's back line were unavailable to head coach Marc Wilmots. Left-back Jan Vertonghen was suspended due to yellow card accumulation and centre back Thomas Vermaelen is out due to an injury to his ankle. These two absences might have opened the door to the Impact's Laurent Ciman to start but Wilmots decided to start Jordan Lukaku at left-back and Jason Denayer at centre back.
In the opening minutes of the match, it quickly became clear that the Belgians were looking for the early goal. Belgium was moving the ball well and was quite menacing. Their early efforts were rewarded with a series of chances when Romelu Lukaku found space deep in Wales' penalty area. Lukaku successfully crossed to Yannick Carrasco who fired from 6 yards out. The shot was saved by Wayne Hennessey but the rebound fell to Thomas Meunier near the penalty spot and he took the shot which was blocked by a mass of Welsh bodies. The rebound from that shot fell to the dangerous Eden Hazard. The Belgian captain let fly a powerful shot from around 10 yards out. It was blocked and sent out for a corner.
Belgium's early efforts were finally rewarded in the 13th minute. After a stint of possession in the offensive half, Hazard played a ball into the path of Radja Nainggolan who let rip an absolute rocket of a shot from outside of the 18 yard box that nestled itself into the upper left hand side of the Welsh net.
After Belgium's goal, Marc Wilmots' team thought that they had the game in the palm of their hand and they started to relax and dial down their intensity. On the other hand, the Welsh dragon was spurred to life by Belgium's goal.
After the 13th minute, Wales started dominating possession and they attacked down the injury racked left side of the Belgian defence.
Belgium's passive play was visible in the 31st minute. The Welsh captain, Ashley Williams found a pocket of space between Jason Denayer and Jordan Lukaku on a corner. The unmarked captain did not miss his golden opportunity and equalized the score line with a well placed header.
The Belgian coach was not able to rally his troops in the locker room since 10 minutes into the 2nd half, Wales stunned Belgium by taking the lead. In the 55th minute, Hal Robson-Kanu received the ball near the Belgian penalty spot. Then, with a magnificent solo effort, Robson-Kanu warded off Thomas Meunier before pivoting on himself and beating Thibaut Courtois to his right. Robson-Kanu's solo effort was the kind of performance one would expect from his teammate Gareth Bale.
In the 86th minute, Belgium must have been too stunned to feel the vivid pain of being eliminated from the European finals. Wales surprised millions of soccer aficionados world wide by knocking off the top rated team in the tournament. The goal that sealed Belgium's fate and sent Welsh fans into tears of joy was headed in by Sam Vokes in the 86th minute. Wales is now set to meet Portugal in the semifinals on July 7th.
Well, if you have noticed my series of articles on Belgium's Euro matches you can easily guess that I was supporting the Red Devils. However heartbreaking this loss might be for me and countless other Belgian fans, we must recognize that after the first fifteen minutes of play, Wales dominated the 2nd best team in the world. The Welsh were the better team on the pitch.
I believe that Belgium's loss is partly due to Marc Wilmots' decision to leave Laurent Ciman on the bench. Jordan Lukaku and Denayer were preferred to Ciman. Both seemed to have trouble winning aerial battles versus the Welsh. The duo were repeatedly subject to attacks from the Welsh and they could not withstand the pressure. Laurent Ciman would have brought another calm veteran presence to the Belgian back line. I believe that Ciman would also have been able to win more aerial battles than either Lukaku or Denayer. All in all, I would have to say Wilmots was mistaken to leave Ciman on the bench and that his presence on the pitch could have saved Belgium from a goal or two.
Well, now that both my teams, Belgium and England, have been eliminated I no longer have a team to cover for the Euro.
If you have a team you would like to see me cover, please mention it in the comment section.