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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 20 February, 2020

Belgium's golden generation fall short and the talking points from Wales' incredible win

Tonight’s result sets up a mouth-watering Euro 2016 showdown between Real Madrid pair Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Welsh players celebrate their victory.
The Welsh players celebrate their victory.
Image: Joe Giddens

1. Wales make history

“DREAM — DON’T BE afraid to have dreams. Four years ago, I was as far away from this as you could imagine. And look what’s happened.

“If you work hard and you’re not afraid to fail… Everyone fails. I’ve had more failures than I have had successes but I’m not afraid to fail.”

Those were the words of Chris Coleman minutes after watching his team remarkably come from behind to book their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

Having taken four points from Belgium in qualifying, the Dragons will have had nothing to fear going into the game and the underdog tag may actually have suited them as it piled the pressure on their opponents.

Even after falling a goal behind through Radja Nainggolan’s stunning long-range effort, the Welsh didn’t show their opponents too much respect and levelled terms before running out deserved winners.

What a journey it has been for this group of players. They qualified for their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup finals, and now have reached the last-four for the first time in the country’s history.

Gareth Bale is their talisman but this is far from a one-man team as the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams, Joe Allen, Joe Ledley, Chris Gunter and Hal Robson-Kanu have shown and there is evidently a real sense of togetherness among the squad.

2. Belgium’s golden generation underachieve

It was touted as the tournament that Belgium could realise their enormous potential and make a genuine challenge for the European championships.

Things didn’t start off well as they lost out to Italy, but confidence-boosting wins over Ireland, Sweden and Hungary appeared to tee them up nicely with just Wales and Portugal standing in the way of an appearance in the final on 10 July.

However, despite their embarrassment of riches, this team does not add up to the sum of its parts and questions must be asked of Marc Wilmot after tonight’s loss. They may have started brightly, but by the end of the game Marouane Fellaini had been sent on out of desperation to throw his weight about and try to save the day.

That said, Belgium have suffered something of a crisis in defence. Regular centre-halves Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Lombaerts missed the entire tournament through injury, while Jan Verthonghen did his ankle during the week and Thomas Vermaelen was out through suspension.

That meant inexperienced pair Jason Denayer and Jordan Lukaku came in to face Wales and they were caught out on a number of occasions.

Down the other end, Jordan’s older brother Romelu and Fellaini were both guilty of missing big chances in the second half and star players like Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne faded.

3. 90 minutes away from the final

Having landed in the perceived easier side of the draw, both Wales and Portugal will be now fancying their chances of securing a spot at the Stade de France on Sunday week — where one of Germany, Italy, France or Iceland await.

The Portuguese haven’t exactly set the tournament alight and somehow they have made it to the last-four without winning a single game in 90 minutes at the tournament.

Wednesday’s semi-final also pits Real Madrid team-mates Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo against each other, which is an intriguing prospect considering they have been reported to have a frosty relationship in the past.

One big loss for Wales will be Aaron Ramsey’s absence, however. The Arsenal midfielder, who has been excellent throughout the competition, picked up a second yellow card of the tournament tonight for a handball.

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Robson-Kanu the hero as Wales stun Belgium to reach Euro 2016 semi-finals

‘Don’t be afraid to have dreams’ – Emotional Coleman pays tribute to Wales

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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