Wales Capture the Imagination

They looked awfully good during qualifying, but who would have guessed that Wales would be able to advance as far as the semifinals before the tournament began? The other Cinderella story besides the inspirational Icelanders, is the campaign that the Welsh have put on at these European Championships. I can’t help but to notice how many times the Welsh have captured my imagination when I watch them, and earlier today is no exception.

After falling behind due to a Radja Nainggolan bullet of a shot from 25 yards out, the Welsh delivered three unanswered goals from captain Ashley Williams, a world class goal from Hal Robson-Kanu, and the dagger from Sam Vokes, Wales advance to the semifinals to take on a waiting Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal who have failed to beat anyone within 90 minutes this entire tournament. With an unconvincing Portugal up next for the men in red, I can start to picture Wales in Paris playing for a trophy.

The leading men for Wales as expected has been Gareth Bale of Real Madrid and Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal. Bale’s three goals set the pace for the rest of the Euros which is only matched by Antoine Griezmann of France (and Alvaro Morata of Spain but they’re out). Bale has certainly been in the mood the entire tournament and although he didn’t score, he was attacking the net for all 90 minutes. Aaron Ramsey has also been in terrific form during the tournament and has racked up four assists which leads the tournament (along with Eden Hazard of Belgium who’s out).

Three other men for Wales has also had brilliant tournaments as well. Captain Ashley Williams has been terrific throughout the tournament, and the Welsh defense hadn’t conceded since the England game. Joe Allen of Liverpool has been excellent distributing the ball completing 89 percent of his passes which is equal to Hazard and Ronaldo and better  than Paul Pogba’s pass completion rate. Hal Robson-Kanu’s play from the front has been exciting as well after he scored a masterful goal that sent three Belgian defenders into the fifth dimension, he has been a danger when he’s been on the field for Wales and is a serious threat against Portugal. Keep in mind that Robson-Kanu is not signed to a club and surely there will be clubs asking for his services once the Euros conclude for Wales.

As for Belgium, a second perhaps premature exit from a major tournament after being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Although their loss in the World Cup was given to them by a mighty Argentina, they’ve fallen to Wales this time around who is very well a talented side, but pale in comparison to a Belgian side who is filled with some of the very best that the Premier League has to offer. Superstars Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku were all stuffed into the backpocket of the Welsh defense after Nainggolan’s extraordinary goal. The window is rapidly coming to a close for the Belgian golden generation who have expected better performances then quarterfinal exits by now. This version of the Euros may have been Belgium’s best chance at a final in a major tournament with Wales and Portugal being the final hurdles to reach that dream. It’s back to the drawing board for coach Marc Wilmots who is still trying to find the very best out of his players after De Bruyne, Lukaku and Hazard along with others like Axel Witsel and Maroune Fellaini who turned in less then world class performances for the most part at this tournament. It’s eyes on Russia 2018 now for the Red Devils who can only hope to find their stride for it.

Cristiano Ronaldo and co. is up next for the Welsh as we have an opportunity to witness two of the world’s best who during the season wear the same shirt. Real Madrid teammates Ronaldo and Bale (and Pepe, always left out Pepe) will meet in Lyon next week for a spot in Paris. Bale has bested Ronaldo thus far with three goals compared to Ronaldo’s two (which came in the game against Hungary). We will finally see the matchup between the two teammates who constantly struggle for the spotlight in Madrid, the two brilliant wingers for the European champions. It’s also the match between the dreaming nation of Wales who couldn’t imagine reaching this stage of the competition versus the Portugese who are looking to finally add to the trophy case which has sat empty through the Eusebio, Figo and Ronaldo years. Ronaldo will attempt to push through another obstacle on his long road to glory, and Bale will attempt to dive into this wonderland that have left the Welsh

 

 

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