France have become the first team to advance to the World Cup semi-finals after overcoming the threat of South Americans Uruguay in Nizhny Novgorod. The stage was set for one of the bigger quarter-final games – the only one to feature two previous winners of the tournament – and Didier Deschamps’ men ultimately emerged comfortable victors. The result set up a semi-final tie against the winners of the other quarter-final being played on Friday, contested between Brazil and Belgium. This will be France’s first semi-final appearance since 2006 and has denied Uruguay the chance of their first tie in the final four since finishing fourth in 2010.
It just gets better and better and no matter how many times Wales have been written off at Euro 2016 they just keep charging on. The tiny nation, so often the butt of many a joke from English fans is now all it’s own and has reached the semi final of the European Championships after defeating the fancied Belgians 3-1.
The victory was in fact easier than first thought. Wales had done brilliantly well to get to the quarter finals of the competition and had equalled their best finish at a major tournament, the last one being the 1958 World Cup where they were finally despatched by Pele’s Brazil on their way to a first World Cup victory.
But Wales 2016 version have just gone one step further. Led by possibly the greatest British player of all time in Gareth Bale, however Wales are not just relying on the Real Madrid superstar. This was evidenced in the fact that Bale did not score tonight.
Glory is theirs but it didn’t look like it when Belgium took an early lead through Radja Nainggolan. His goal is quite certain to be on the short list for goal of the tournament. The ball was set up for him some 20 yards out and he turned cannonball with perhaps the deadliest and most powerful strike at the Euro’s. But it became quite clear that Wales were not in France to make up the numbers and from conceding that early goal they knocked the ball confidently around the field and created chances of their own. Indeed when defender and captain Ashley Williams headed in a precise equaliser just after the half hour mark, it was joyous but not at all unexpected.
In the second half Wales again enjoyed much of the genuine chances on offer- as both sides were also guilty of missing some great chances. But it would be Belgium who would blink first and in the 55th minute Hal-Robson Kanu was put in front of goal and showed tremendous composure whilst slotting the ball past a hapless Thibaut Courtois.
At 2-1 down Belgium as expected had to up the tempo but Wales still remained the threat especially on the counter and so it proved when Sam Vokes who had been on the field for 6 minutes directed a superb header past Courtois to make it 3-1 and with minutes to go an unassailable lead had opened up for the Welsh. Suddenly the realization was there that they would be facing Portugal in the semi finals- The two most expensive players on the planet and team mates Bale and Ronaldo will go head to head for a place in the final, and looking at how tight and close these two teams are only a fool would predict the outcome.
For Wales this is undoubtedly a surreal moment but also a real one and a moment to be cherished along the streets of Cardiff, Newport and beyond.