Wales stuns Belgium, 3-1, to reach Euro 2016 semifinal

In a tournament that has served up its share of drama and intrigue, Wales provided another dose of both on Friday.

The Welsh ran past a favored Belgian side, 3-1, to reach the semifinal of the European Championship in its first appearance in the tournament.

“Don’t be afraid to have dreams,” Wales manager Chris Coleman said. “Because four years ago, I was as far away from this as you can imagine. And look what’s happened. If you work hard enough, you’re not afraid to dream and you’re not afraid to fail. … I’m enjoying it. It’s sweet and I think we deserve it.”

It was not the win, but the way it arrived that was the story in Lille on Friday. The Welsh were even on possession, had more shots and played with a passion and energy that the world’s second-ranked team simply couldn’t match.

In addition, Wales’ talisman Gareth Bale — usually the source of goals and assists for his country — led in other ways. He had the second most ball recoveries and most completed tackles, which are unusual stats to be associated with the most expensive player in world soccer history.

The night didn’t start well for Wales, however, as Radja Nainggolan put Belgium ahead with an absolute screamer from outside the box in the 13th minute.

Instead of dropping their heads, Wales went to work.

Wales, playing in Coleman’s 3-5-2 formation, grabbed hold of the match for the rest of the first half. The Welsh dominated the ball, created a boatload of chances and found the equalizer in the 31st minute. Aaron Ramsey served in a corner, and no one bothered to mark the captain, Ashley Williams, who slammed home a header to tie the score.

The match remained tied at one until the break, and Belgium came out with a strong start after the break. Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne both had good looks at goal in the first five minutes of the second 45, but neither could find the target.

The Red Devils would rue those missed chances, as Hal Robson-Kanu produced a bit of magic in the 55th minute. Robson-Kanu, released by Reading after the season, shook loose of three Belgian defenders near the penalty spot before thumping the ball past a helpless Thibaut Courtois for a 2-1 lead.

Belgium pushed for an equalizer, but had to settle for hopeful crosses into second-half substitute Marouane Fellani which failed to produce the tying goal.

Wales, content to sit a little deeper late in the match and work off the counter, delivered the knockout blow four minutes from time. Sam Vokes, who replaced Robson-Kanu, headed home a spot-on cross from Chris Gunter to put the match out of reach.

Wales will face Portugal in the semifinal Wednesday in Lyon, but will do so without Ramsey and defender Ben Davies, who are set to miss the match because of yellow cards.

About Randy Capps

South Carolina native, Fulham apologist, writer and sports fanatic.