Wales will be intent on taking their epic journey through Euro 2016 all the way into the semi-finals when they head to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy to meet Belgium, who have now begun to spread their wings and look capable of fulfilling their considerable potential.
It is a clash that carries great significance for both sides, and one that sees the renewal of a rivalry that developed during qualifying for this tournament. Belgium emerged as group winners, but could not find a way past Chris Coleman’s side home or away, with Gareth Bale capitalising on a defensive error to seal a notable win for Wales in Cardiff.
Here, the stakes are much greater, but Belgium can expect to be confronted with an even fiercer wall of Welsh resistance, led by a back three which has functioned exceptionally well during the campaign so far. Captain Ashley Williams has been the calming influence, sitting in between the all-action duo of James Chester and Ben Davies.
Belgium are a team that contains many standout individuals, which is in contrast to a Wales side who pin most of their hopes in an attacking sense on the star quality of Bale.
With three goals as well as the cross which led to the winning goal in the last 16 match against Northern Ireland, the Real Madrid winger has played the leading role in helping them get to this stage, and will be needed more than ever here to provide those moments of magic which he seems to be producing with increasing regularity.
That wicked delivery that resulted in Gareth McAuley turning the ball into his own net was one of the relatively few moments where Bale had an effect on the game with Northern Ireland, but such is his ability that he needed just one half chance to decide the outcome. His pace will be the chief concern for Belgium, who are likely to have most of the territory.
It will be noticeably bigger test for Wales than what they have faced so far in this competition, especially in the wake of Belgium’s magnificent display against Hungary on Sunday. They should have been out of sight at half-time in a very open encounter, but superiority eventually told as three goals in the final quarter of an hour added to Toby Alderweireld’s 10th minute opener.
While they know that Wales will not give them freedom to play in the same way that an adventurous Hungarian outfit did, Belgium will have taken an immense amount of credit from the result and the performance; one which emphasised the level of depth to their squad and showed just how many attacking outlets they possess.
Kevin De Bruyne was the creator in-chief, but it was his former Chelsea teammate Eden Hazard who was head and shoulders above the rest. Capping a superb night with an outstanding goal, Hazard seemed to be back at the peak of his powers, terrorising defenders and appearing almost unplayable. Should he perform like that again here, Wales may realise that this is a bridge too far.
Of the four quarter-final matches, this one is the most intriguing. Belgium are the favourites and should come out on top, but there is something really special about Wales at present. For that reason, extra time looks a possibility.
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