Euro 2016 Qualifiers: Wales take the lead in Group B

Cardiff City Stadium

The scene of Wales’ 1-0 win over World No.2’s Belgium. Credit: Jon Candy.

WITH another round of matches now underway the fight for a place in the Euro 2016 final in Paris is passing the halfway point, with world champions Germany chasing Poland in their group, England extending their winning streak to six in six, and all the home nations and Ireland still in with a very real chance of qualifying. The spotlight this weekend however, was on Wales as they triumphed over Belgium, currently ranked second in the world, on Friday night at Cardiff City Stadium.

The 1 – 0 victory may have been a combination of defensive error and one of the best forwards in the world being left unmarked in the box, but Gareth Bale’s 25th minute goal was no less important, expertly controlled from Radja Nainggolan’s careless header and slotted underneath Thibaut Courtois. The momentum was with the home side for the remainder of the half, attempts being blocked by a rumbled Belgian defense that allowed a left-footed Joe Ledley shot through and sent Courtois scrambling again.

The visitors came out for the last 45 minutes newly inspired and pressed hard for the remainder of the match, sending shot after shot at the Welsh goal line. Though there were some valiant efforts from some Premier League stars Hazard, Benteke and Lukaku, anything aimed at the net found the gloves of Wayne Hennessey in a fantastic performance from the Welsh number 1. With 33,000 fans roaring behind them, Wales kept their opponents at bay, unable to make a shot themselves for the majority of the second half, instead defending against a barrage of attacking play.

95 minutes, 18 shots and their best efforts later, Belgium were sent home without the consolation point they were chasing and Wales moved to the top of their group, three points clear of second, and well within reach of a qualification spot. Two wins in matches against Israel, Cyprus, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Andorra (who have yet to pick up a point in this campaign) will see them walk out onto a pitch in Paris next summer.

As well as taking them one step closer to their first international final since 1958, it will see Wales enter the FIFA rankings top ten when updated in July and placed into the top pool of teams for the upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifying draw. All of this is cause for much excitement in Chris Coleman’s squad; their strong team cohesion and the talents of a world-class player being an addition to the squad instead of a necessity poises them for their hard-earned time in the sun.