Euro 2016: Wales set for 'biggest game' since 1958 World Cup

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Hartson on how Wales can beat Belgium
Euro 2016 quarter-final: Wales v Belgium
Date: Friday, 1 July Venue: Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Live BBC One, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, S4C and text commentary online & BBC Sport app

Wales manager Chris Coleman says his players "know what's at stake" as the country prepares for its biggest football match in almost 60 years.

They face Belgium in Lille on Friday knowing victory will clinch them a place in the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

"I'm not going to play the occasion down, I'm going to enjoy it and savour it," said Coleman.

Wales have not reached a major finals since they were beaten by Brazil in the last eight of the 1958 World Cup.

"Since that 1958 quarter-final, we have to put this down as the biggest game our country's ever been involved in," said Coleman.

Ranked 26th in the world, Wales face a side 24 places above them. However, they beat and drew with Belgium in qualifying for Euro 2016 and have already progressed further than England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"We have done well to get this far," said Coleman. "But when you are in the quarter-final of the tournament knowing if we can get it right there are great possibilities, it is different. It is a fantastic pressure to have."

Bale is ready for action

Wales may lack the strength in depth of their opponents, but they have star quality in the form of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

Belgium also have their world-class players, among them Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.

They are also in top form. They lost their opening game 2-0 against Italy but have won their three matches since.

There will be about 20,000 Wales fans in Lille for the match, but with the city just 10 miles from the Belgian border, it has been estimated there will be up to 150,000 Belgium supporters making the trip.

This has led to concerns that many ticketless Welsh fans may not even be able to get into the Lille fan zone, which holds 30,000. Paul Corkery, of the Football Supporters' Federation Cymru, warned: "Once it's full it's shut."

Belgium manager Marc Wilmots said his team will have home advantage, adding: "We have a team with a few worries. So it's good to have a 12th man."

In Wales, there are fan zones open in various locations, including Cardiff, Newport, Pontypridd and Anglesey.

A butcher in Cardiff has produced a special Euro Burger, while Neil Ward, chief executive of the Football Association of Wales Trust, claimed the team's progress has even got passionate rugby union fans talking about the side.

Belgium's bogey team?

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Wales play Belgium in a European Championship qualifier at Cardiff Arms Park in October 1990.

Unbeaten in their past three meetings with Belgium, Bale has suggested Wales are a "bogey team" for the Red Devils, who are ranked second in the world and have scored eight goals without conceding in their past three games.

The 26-year-old does so with some justification, having scored the winning goal in their last encounter - a highly charged 1-0 victory in a Euro 2016 qualifier at the Cardiff City Stadium in June 2015.

Wales v Belgium - recent meetings:

  • 12 June 2015: Wales 1-0 Belgium, Euro 2016 qualifier
  • 16 Nov 2014: Belgium 0-0 Wales, Euro 2016 qualifier
  • 15 Oct 2013: Belgium 1-1 Wales, World Cup qualifier
  • 7 Sep 2012: Wales 0-2 Belgium, World Cup qualifier

Coleman and his players have described that as the turning point of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, the moment they started to believe they would end their 58-year wait for major tournament appearance.

Both teams have evolved since the match in Cardiff. Wales are revelling in their Euro 2016 adventure, sweeping into the last 16 with a spectacular demolition of Russia, then grinding out a nervous win over Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Belgium - until now significantly less than the sum of their world-class individual parts - appeared to be finally click into gear with a ruthless 4-0 second-round thrashing of Hungary.

"They won convincingly against Hungary and they looked good, but they don't always play like they can and they make mistakes like anyone else," said Coleman. "It is up to us to make sure that side comes out."

What about the unsung heroes?

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Belgium weaknesses can be exploited - Bale

Bale and Ramsey might grab most of the headlines but the importance of the Wales defence should not be underestimated.

Wales drew 1-1 in Brussels towards the end of their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign thanks to excellent defensive foundations and ground out a goalless draw in the same city on their way to qualifying for Euro 2016.

"Whether that's a back four, a back five or whatever, there's never been a time going into a game with this manager that we've felt anything other than prepared," said right-back Chris Gunter.

Gunter and fellow full-back Neil Taylor often go unnoticed in the grand narrative of recent achievements, but the side conceded just four goals in 10 qualifiers and, at Euro 2016 itself, have kept clean sheets in their past two games.

Wales defence has been built around captain Ashley Williams in recent years, though it is two less celebrated players who have shone brightest in France: Ben Davies and James Chester.

Tottenham's Davies made a crucial goalline clearance in the opening win over Slovakia and has been consistently impressive in possession on the left side of Wales' three-man central defence.

Chester, meanwhile, has defied his status as a peripheral figure at West Brom with a string of solid displays.

The former Hull defender has made 14 tackles and 13 interceptions in his four appearances, while 88% of his 172 passes have been accurate.

Can Wales do it?

Dean Saunders, John Hartson and Robbie Savage

Confidence has been a commodity in rich supply for Wales. No occasion, no matter how significant, looks like unsettling Coleman's men.

They will be the underdogs against a Belgium side whose strength in depth is the envy of most teams in Europe. However, that could suit the Welsh, who are at their most effective when counter-attacking.

Wales demonstrated against Northern Ireland how they can struggle to unlock deep-lying defences, but Belgium are expected to be on the front foot in Lille.

"They have got pace and power," said Coleman. "When it is time to defend, we will defend with our lives. When it is time to attack, we will attack with our lives. If we do that, Belgium will be in for a hell of a game."

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