The Second Half
The Wales team remains unchanged as the teams come out of the tunnel onto the pitch, but on the Belgium side, a giant looms over the stadium, golden haired afro flowing in the breeze. Yannick Carrasco has a poor game (I’ve never seen him play well to be honest) and has come off, as the number 8, Mr “Flying Elbow afro man chest it down boosh” Marouane Fellaini runs onto the pitch. The belgium attack has been quite blunt and flacid, and Marc Wilmot is hoping he can add a more direct approach to the game, to counter Wales’ excellent defensive work thus far. Wales kick off and we are 45 minutes away from history.
Men of Harlech ring around the Stadium as Wales enjoy a bit of posession, before the two teams trade posession back and forth. Belgium retain the ball for a spell, and bring the full backs very high up the pitch, utilising the width, trying to break down the compact Wales defence. Joe Allen fouls Hazard from behind, before Thomas Muenier whips a ball into Romelu Lukaku, who heads just wide from a great chance, the Wales defenders caught out slightly and were very lucky, as he jumped unapposed.
Belgium start to show they are the #2 side in the world with some patient passing among the back four, switiching the play from fullback to fullback, before some lovely link up play from the forward’s and midfield lead to a chance for De Bruyene, who beautifully cut inside on his left foot, bamboozling Joe Ledley, and just hit it over Wayne Hennesey and the goal. A great move and a taste of what may be yet to come for Belgium. They’re looking good.
Hazard comes close next a minute later, De Bruyne beautifully trapping a ball from above, before finding Eden Hazard, who cuts inside, with his shot just wide of the Wales goal. Belgium really starting to look dangerous, as the replay shows Gunter and Chester bumping onto each other when the chance happened. SORT IT OUT LADS. Belgium pile on the pressure, and apart from a brief Wales counter-attack, it’s all Belgium. They get a corner as Williams out jumps big Rom.
The introduction of Fellaini hasn’t seemed to changed the shape of the team much, only making the team slighly less abled on the right hand side with one less man, but De Bruyne has taken the game upon himself the second half, and is doing everything right, playing in Hazard and Lukaku a number of times. Wales seem shook, and can’t even get the ball to reply to Belgiums dominance.
Enter Hal Robson-Cruyffnu.
I don’t think I need to explain this goal, but I shall, in excrutiating detail.
Bale gets the ball on the right. He takes a touch, has a look around. “Who do I see there?” He thinks to himself, “Is that the majestic blonde hair of future Juventus Star Aaron Ramsey? Better boosh this up over to him. Kablamo” He almost certainly thinks to himself. Using his left foot, his preferred of his two, he fits a perfect ball for Ramsey to run on to near the corner flag. He controls it, and looks up. “Oh look at that, it’s my old chum Hal Robson-Kanu! Hey Hal! Fancy the ball boyo? Here you go champ.” He definitely said. If you pause at the perfect time you can probably see him doing a supersponic speed Ayatollah gesture. He clips a lovely ball into Hal Robson-Kanu. He controls it in the box. His back is to goal, and between him and the promised land of the back of the net is 3 Belgium defenders, the only goalkeeper bigger than Big Wayne, and his own mortality. Neil Taylor is screaming to his left “Pass it me Hal I scored once”. He decides “Fuck that you’re shit”, and sends all 3 on their arses with the most perfect Hal Robson-Kanu turn (Johan who?), before slotting it past Courtois with Gareth Bale’s preferred foot. Limbs and beer go everywhere, bucket hats are tossed into the stands and Neil Taylor celebrates, saying to his friend and colleague “I wouldn’t have passed to me either)
Wales are back ahead. Belgium had frankly dominated, but you don’t win games by havinf the most possesion. It’s by having the most last names, and Robson-Kanu has all of them beaten in that regard.
The camera pans to Courtois, and it shows Wales fans in the background, taking their shirts off and going mental. WooHoo! Wales go on the attack again, Robson-Kanu controlling the ball on his chest, who passes to Ramsey who switches the ball over the Bale. His backheel to Gunter is too heavy, and goes out for a goal kick. The crowd is rocking. Fellaini stamps on Bale and should be off, referee is a coward. Not even a booking.
The free kick is taken by Hennesey, and properly smashed all the way up to the 18 yard Box. Bale leaps above Jordan Lukaku about 12 feet in the end, and finds Ramsey, who wins a corner for Wales. Wales are starting to get more of a foothold in the game, and Belgium looked rocked after conceding. After some confusion from the corner, Ashely Williams toe poke attempt is saved, and Belgium break. Wales are defending with their lives, all 11 men back in their half as Belgium pass the ball around, looking for an opening through the impenitrable red wall.
Wales are quick to press as the ball is cleared to the Belgium defence, winning the ball back via a Joe Allen tackle. Again, the outlet is a long ball, to Robson-Kanu, who with some trickery gets past his defender and wins a throw in in a dangerous position. Wales try to get through, but lose possesion, and on a Belgium attack Ashley Williams tries to murder Naingollen in an off the ball challenge, for some reason not resulting in a yellow. This ref is now good again.
De Bruyne steps up for the free kick, but hits it straight at the Goalkeeper, not up to his usual standard of set pieces. Maybe the occasion and Wales superiority is getting to him.
Wales get their own set piece, a corner down the other end. The ball is sent in, but shots from Joe Allen and Ashley Williams are blazed over. The stadium is rocking and Wales press the defenders, and the supporters start to believe. Belgium have possesion but still struggle to break Wales’ “press and eventual standing in our own box forcing them to shoot from 30 yards out” tactic. Fellaini bumples into Neil Taylor aggresively, forcing the free kick in what would be Wales 22, if it were a different sport.
“DON’T TAKE ME HOME” rings around the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. 20 Minutes remain, Belgium are attacking, and Wales have one foot in the Semi-Finals. Chester blocks a good chance by De Bruyne, and Wales hearts are in mouths and poo is coming out of their trousers. It a “trousers in socks” kind of match.
Almost disaster. A lovely move, and the Toby Alderwiereld overlaps Muenier and whips a pin point cross onto the head of Fellaini, who, and only he knows how he managed this, heads it wide. A MASSIVE let off for Wales who have only 15 minutes to hold on, but Belgium are looking very dangerous, and Wales are starting to tire. Changes are needed soon. Ramsey is booked for a handball which wasn’t one to be honest, and will miss the semi finals. Luckily, as he isn’t a wimp like certain Englishman, he doesn’t cry and continues to get the job done.
Dries Mertens comes on for Muenier, hoping the Napoli winger/striker can inject some pace and creativity into this team to unlock the Wales defence. Chance after chance for Belgium as they come so, so close, but the Wales fans get louder and louder. A first change for Wales, as after a great game Joe Ledley is substituted for Premier League winner, Andy King. Having just won the league with Leicester in the best thing to happen in the Premier League ever, he was unlucky to not be a starting member of this Wales team, but he has his chance to make history now.
Lukaku has a penalty shout turned down, and a brief Belgium again ends in a long shot going over the bar, this time courtesy of Axel Witsel, the Zenit midfielder. Belgium seem to have no plan B if their plan doesn’t work, although they’re certainly dominating despite the scoreline.
Standing ovation. Robson-Kanu, the goalscoring hero of Wales, slowly exits the field to his applause, as he’s replaced by Burnley striker Sam Vokes. His height up top with be a good outlet to flick headers onto Bale and Ramsey, to try nick a goal at the end, aswell as to help out in defence at corners.
Or not! 85 minutes in, Chris Gunter swings a ball of majesterial quality right onto the head of our new hero, as Vokes powers a thunderous header past Courtois, shown up as the fraud he is and annoting Wales as the new second best team in the world. “Wales are going to the semi final” Robbie Savage sighs through tears of joy, as all the Belgium pressure is lifted off the shoulders of the Welsh defence, who in 5 short minutes can finally celebrate.
Nothing of any consequence happens. The final whistle blows. Wales have done it. We’ve beaten the favourites, the second best team in the world by clear margins, having dominated the first half and defending heroically in the second. The players celebrate on the the pitch with their children, and Neil Taylor smiles politely to himself as always.
And on that note, Chris Coleman is given a microphone, and is asked what he has to say to all the Welsh fans back home.
“Dream. Don’t be afraid to have dreams. Four years ago I was as far away from this as you can imagine. If you work hard enough, and your not afraid to dream, and not afraid to fail. Everybody fails. I’ve had more failures than i’ve had success. But I’m not afraid to fail.”
Wales lost toe Portugal in the next round 2-0. It wasn’t a great game. Ramsey and Davies missed out. We didn’t play well and didn’t deserve to win. But the memories of the Belgium game will long live on in the memories of Wales fans, and hopefully football fans alike.
Don’t Be Afraid to Dream.Chris Coleman