Gareth Bale must be at his best for Wales in Belgium battle
Wales, 13/8 chances with Coral to reach the Euro 2016 finals in France, face their toughest assignment of Group B when they go to Brussels on November 16th.
Although they lead World Cup quarter-finalists Belgium by three points in the pool, Marc Wilmots’ Red Devils men have played a game less and possess greater strength in depth. To top it all, Dragons boss Chris Coleman has named a squad which lacks an out-and-out striker, so all the onus for guile and glory falls on Gareth Bale in attack.
Real Madrid’s world record signing has only just returned from injury, however, and if played through the middle will not relish an individual duel with Belgium captain Vincent Kompany. Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey are back to bolster the Welsh midfield, but on paper their hosts look to be better-equipped in every area.
A forward line of Reading duo Hal Robson-Kanu and Jake Taylor, David Cotterill of struggling Birmingham City, and youngsters George Williams (Fulham) and Tom Lawrence, alongside Bale must tackle a highly-seasoned Red Devils defence.
While the bulk of Coleman’s attacking options ply their trade in the Championship, Belgium’s rearguard are more accustomed to Champions League football. Kompany (Manchester City), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit St Petersburg) and Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht) all turned out in Europe’s elite club competition mere days before customary selections from national boss Wilmots.
Toby Alderweireld has excelled at Southampton and Sebastien Pocognoli is doing well enough at West Bromwich Albion, while Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham joins Jason Denayer (Celtic) and Laurent Ciman (Standard Liege) in enjoying Europa League action. That contrast between Dragons and Devils is stark.
Six of the 10 defenders chosen by Coleman play Premier League football, but so do all eight attackers and wingers in Belgian ranks plotting to breach Wayne Hennessey’s goal. Even he is dwarfed by opposite number Thibaut Courtois’ colossal reputation.
Ramsey will have to relish a midfield meeting with Mousa Dembele, with these combatants representing either side of the north London divide. While the former is backed up by Allen and Joe Ledley for Wales, the likes of Marouane Fellaini are among the options open to stoking the Red Devils’ engine room.
Comparing the rosters to a man entirely justifies Belgium’s odds-on 1/5 with Coral to finish top of Group B, and illustrates why Wales are 16/1 to end the qualification campaign in first place.
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Danny Ward (Liverpool), Owain fon Williams (Tranmere Rovers)
Defenders: James Chester (Hull City), James Collins (West Ham United), Ben Davies (Tottenham), Paul Dummett (Newcastle United), Danny Gabbidon (Cardiff City), Chris Gunter (Reading), Adam Matthews (Celtic), Sam Ricketts (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams (both Swansea City)
Midfielders: Joe Allen (Liverpool), Lee Evans (Wolves), Emyr Huws (Wigan Athletic), Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Jonathan Williams (Ipswich Town)
Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), David Cotterill (Birmingham City), Tom Lawrence (Leicester City), Hal Robson-Kanu and Jake Taylor (both Reading), George Williams (Fulham)
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Jean-Francois Gillet (Torino), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Southampton), Laurent Ciman (Standard Liege), Jason Denayer (Celtic), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit St Petersburg), Sebastien Pocognoli (West Bromwich Albion), Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Jan Vertonghen (Spurs)
Midfielders: Kevin de Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Mousa Dembele (Spurs), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Dennis Praet (Anderlecht), Axel Witsel (Zenit)
Wingers: Nacer Chadli (Spurs), Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Monaco), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Adnan Januzaj (Man Utd), Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Striker: Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Divock Origi (Lille)