Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn catapults Wales into Euro semis at Belgium’s expense
Holly Thackeray | July 1, 2016
Wales 2-1 Belgium
- Davies and Ramsey received yellow cards ruling them out of semi-finals
- Nainggolan cracker from 30 yards fired Belgium into lead on 13 minutes
- Dragons skipper Williams headed Wales level after half-an-hour
- Robson-Kanu converted after Cruyff turn in second-half to send Wales into lead
- Super sub Vokes sealed Wales’ spot in final four with 85th minute header
- The Dragons will face Portugal in Euro 2016 semi-final
Wales record historical night by booking spot in semis
In easily one of, if not, the most entertaining and enthralling Euro 2016 games so far, last Home Nation standing Wales fought ferociously to beat Belgium 2-1, sensationally booking a spot in the semi-finals.
It was Belgium who took the lead brilliantly through Radja Nainggolan before the 15 minute mark, but Wales replied ruthlessly by goals from Ashley Williams and a spectacularly skillful strike from unlikely hero Hal Robson-Kanu.
Winners Wales (now slashed to 8/1 with Coral to win Euro 2016 outright) will now face Portugal in the semis, a path to the final which looks deceptively smooth. Yet, it is a battle that will ultimately be billed as a rivalry between Real Madrid teammates Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Though, as tonight’s action illustrated, sometimes it is the unlikely heroes who stand up when it counts.
Pinball wizards Wales
The frenetic tempo was set from the off with both teams ambitious in the opening stages, though Dragons defender Ben Davies soon paid for the stretched nature of the game, garnering his second yellow of the tournament within five minutes.
Belgium displayed all the finesse expected, with Romelu Lukaku finding joy on the left flank and picking out an unmarked Yannick Ferreira Carrasco in acres of space on the opposite side of the area.
More than making up for that lapse, however, the Dragons defence somehow denied the Red Devils a golden chance, with the ball pinging about the box. Wayne Hennessey made the first save from Ferreira Carrasco, but could only parry and look on as Williams and his rearguard comrades made several blocks off the line in a dramatic sequence.
Kevin De Bruyne sent the resulting set-piece swinging into the area, but cumbersome Lukaku failed to get his head to the dipping delivery, allowing Wales a moment to exhale.
Although unusually shaky at the back, Coleman’s crew soon showed their promise on the counter, as Hal Robson-Kanu headed a dangerous delivery from Neil Taylor way into the stands, before Gareth Bale left Belgium’s backline for dead on the left. Though, the Real Madrid man’s strike could only terrify the side-netting. Still, it was a Welsh warning.
Nainggolan nets spectacular effort
In line with the explosive nature of the encounter, the opener had to be a jaw-dropping effort. Duties fell to Roma box-to-box dynamo Nainggolan on 13 minutes, who had already displayed his long-range prowess before in this tournament, meaning the Dragons should have studied up harder.
It wasn’t tough to see just why Chelsea are apparently chasing the all-rounder, as neat Nainggolan found freedom in the middle of the park with Wales back in their box rather than pressing the midfield.
The Giallorossi star took a touch and then unleashed a lethal thunderbolt from distance which thumped the back of the net – its slight curl and speed giving Hennessey no chance, though no Welsh bodies managed to block.
Meanwhile, centre back James Chester became the second in Wales’ rearguard to receive a caution after taking out Romelu Lukaku, and Chris Gunter followed his compatriot into the referee’s book for a trip on De Bruyne. With the match played at such pace, it certainly left Coleman’s crew in a sticky situation.
Dragons push on unbowed
Wales continued to impress with their composure, confidence and intent despite the Belgian blow, and came within inches of an equaliser with just 26 minutes on the clock.
The defiant Dragons poured forward, with Aaron Ramsey asserting himself in the conductor role.
Arsenal plotter Ramsey popped up in the box after fashioning space down the flank of other Lukaku sibling Jordan, but his pull-back found found Taylor rather than Bale, and the defender’s instinctive shot was batted away awesomely by cat-like keeper Thibaut Courtois.
Williams draws Welsh level
Belgium’s number one could do little minutes afterwards, though, when stranded at the wrong side of his goalmouth during a corner. Welsh skipper Williams rose high and unmarked to head downward and nestle the ball into the net to a roar of red support and a group hug on the sidelines.
Wales were level thanks to his determined effort but, despite Belgium’s backline ball watching instead of marking the known set-piece threat, it was De Bruyne’s drifting away from the post which cost Marc Wilmots’ men.
The thrilling first-half continued as Wales kept up the bravery, Bale’s powerful down-pitch surge through Belgium’s defence culminating in a shot straight at Courtois. But, the game was in the balance, with the Red Devils shaken and the Dragons stirred.
Alert Ramsey unluckily saw a rifled shot deflected out for a corner, but Williams was allowed to throw his weight around in the opposition area yet again, though he could only nod another chance over.
Belgium would have been glad of the break at that point but Wales, who had momentum firmly swinging in their favour, must have been frustrated by the interim as much as viewers and fans.
Belgium flatter to deceive
Within minutes of the re-start, the Red Devils looked revived and fashioned another opportunity, only for Lukaku to spurn it, flashing a header from Thomas Meunier’s whipped in ball just wide.
Urged to keep on the front foot, Belgium were throwing everything at Wales, as De Bruyne blasted over the bar and Eden Hazard’s lashed strike also went wide of Hennessey’s post – though it possessed plenty of venom.
Pegged back, Wales were reliant on Williams’ command of his area, as the Swansea City centre back gobbled up ball after ball, beating bruising Lukaku to many. Crucially, though, Belgium could not capitalise on their moment of supremacy.
Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn sends Wales wild
Wales soon had their own chances, however – and took them much more ruthlessly. With great appetite, Ramsey ran wide to chase a long ball before picking out Robson-Kanu in the box.
The former Reading man, recently released, pulled off a tremendous Cruyff turn to shrug off the attentions of Axel Witsel and substitute Marouane Fellaini, deceiving Belgium’s defence devilishly before slotting home slickly.
With the Home Nation portion of the crowd erupting, Robson-Kanu wheeled away having put Wales ahead of Belgium in a European Championship quarter-final. Yes, you did read that right. It certainly won’t have hurt his chances of finding a new club. Judging by his performances in France, he won’t be a free agent for much longer.
As it stands in the semi-final, Cristiano Ronaldo will face a footballer in his own league….
Hal Robson-Kanu. pic.twitter.com/36DqYagGTl
— Coral (@Coral) July 1, 2016
Dragons dominance continued as Williams, high up the pitch again, drove his team on and saw two further attempts on goal deflected, the latter a rocket which sailed high.
Red Devils rally
Toby Alderweireld then turned playmaker for Belgium, whipping in a wonderful cross that Fellaini only had to guide home, but the ex-Everton battering ram somehow missed the target.
Wilmots’ men really began to rally with Wales walking the tightrope, though the wrong men were on the end of their chances with Fellaini and Witsel both firing further chances wide.
A second wave from the Red Devils with all their star quality was to be expected, and Andy King was thrown on for Joe Ledley in an effort to fresh tired Welsh legs.
Dragons survive penalty scare, Vokes batters Belgian hopes
Belgium’s big-guns continued to turn the screw, and Dragons coach Coleman could have been forgiven for his hair turning white as Wales escaped a penalty shout. Nainggolan was the party who fell down in the box after Williams went in late with his foot, but the referee waved on play in what was a pivotal moment.
The best was yet to come, however, as Wales enjoyed a crowning moment through Burnley forward Sam Vokes. The Clarets attacker was called on by Coleman in a masterstroke as the clock ticked down, and epitomised Dragons desire with his last-gasp goal to cement the historical victory.
This time it was Chris Gunter who galloped forward in a brief moment of relief from Belgian pressure, and Vokes lept higher than Jordan Lukaku to nod past Courtois and send Belgium crashing out of the Euro 2016 quarters.
Wales will now face Ronaldo’s Portugal in the final four, another team in their ilk that enjoys a counter attack and can dig deep. What a spectacle it should be!