Wales 3-1 Belgium: Robson-Kanu magic sends Dragons into semis

Hal Robson-Kanu wrote his name into Welsh football history with a stunning individual effort as the Dragons downed Belgium 3-1 in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals. 

Friday’s contest marked Wales’ first quarter-final in 58 years, their other run to the last eight coming in the country’s only previous appearance at a senior international competition, the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

But just 13 minutes in Chris Coleman’s side were given a mountain to climb against the world’s second-ranked nation as a fierce long-range strike from Radja Nainggolan put Belgium ahead.

Wales’ reply was magnificent and a deserved leveller came courtesy of captain Ashley Williams, who capitalised on some poor defending to restore parity.

Belgium appeared set to take command of an enthralling contest once more after starting the second half on the front foot, only for Robson-Kanu to evade three players with a marvellous turn and make it 2-1 in confident fashion.

Aaron Ramsey was then booked – meaning the instrumental Arsenal midfielder will miss the semi-final against Portugal, which Sam Vokes made absolutely sure of progressing to with a fantastic near-post header from Chris Gunter’s cross.

Only some heroic defending prevented Wales from falling behind in the seventh minute as Belgium went agonisingly close to opening the scoring on three occasions.

First Yannick Carrasco was thwarted by a fine close-range save from Wayne Hennessey following excellent work down the right from Kevin De Bruyne, with Thomas Meunier’s follow-up blocked by Neil Taylor before Eden Hazard saw his effort deflected over.

Romelu Lukaku was unable to connect with the subsequent corner from De Bruyne and Belgium were fortunate not to see his profligacy punished as Robson-Kanu headed over a Taylor cross and Gareth Bale lashed into the side-netting following a trademark surge down the left.

But Belgium were rewarded for a strong start in remarkable fashion through Nainggolan.

The Roma midfielder was afforded too much space as he picked the ball up 30 yards from goal and unleashed a vicious strike that Hennessey could not keep out, despite getting a hand to it.

Wales responded well and Belgium were grateful to the reflexes of Thibaut Courtois for preserving the lead, the Chelsea goalkeeper somehow keeping out Taylor’s low drive after the left-back had been picked out in the box by Ramsey.

Belgium did not pay for their poor marking on that occasion, but Williams took advantage of more questionable defending on the half-hour mark.

The skipper was left unmarked and met Ramsey’s corner with a downward header into the bottom-right corner.

Belgium began the second 45 in the ascendancy as Lukaku missed a gilt-edged chance by heading a Meunier cross wide and De Bruyne and Hazard both went close with curling efforts.

However, Wales completed the turnaround 10 minutes after the restart, Robson-Kanu displaying excellent composure to fire them in front.

He latched onto a superb left-wing cross from Ramsey and then produced a moment of magic before coolly slotting beyond Courtois.

Marouane Fellaini headed wide from the edge of the six-yard box and Nainggolan saw a penalty claim waved away, but it was Vokes who had the final say five minutes from time to stunningly knock out one of the heavy pre-tournament favourites.

Blow for Wales as Ramsey & Davies to miss Euro 2016 semi-final

Wales will have to cope without Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies for their Euro 2016 semi-final clash with Portugal after both players picked up their second yellow card of the tournament against Belgium.

The absence of the Arsenal midfielder will come as a particular blow to Chris Coleman’s side, with the 25-year-old having claimed two assists to help the Welsh claim a memorable 3-1 win in Friday’s quarter-final tie.

Coleman’s men, who trailed early on in the game courtesy of Radja Nainggolan’s stunning long-range strike, memorably fought back through goals from Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes, with Ramsey setting up the first two.

Portugal, meanwhile, will be without William Carvalho for the crunch semi-final tie, with the Sporting Lisbon midfielder shown his second yellow card of the competition for pulling back Poland midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak.

‘Fellaini deserves to be playing non-league football’

Marouane Fellaini has incurred Twitter’s wrath for his display as Belgium crashed out of Euro 2016 at the hands of Wales.

The Manchester United midfielder was a half-time substitute with the score at 1-1 after Radja Nainggolan’s opener had been equalised by Ashley Williams’s header.

However, goals from Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes gave Wales a shock win and Fellaini’s second-half performance did not go unnoticed on social media.

Ozil out to end Germany’s Italy woe

Mesut Ozil is hoping to defy Germany’s appalling record against Italy and help propel his side into the semi-finals of Euro 2016 on Saturday.

Germany have not beaten Italy in eight matches at major tournaments and Ozil believes it is high time the world champions put the record straight.

Speaking ahead of the game in Bordeaux, he said: “In history it has always been this way – in the big tournaments we have failed against Italy.

“We have to be professional to overcome that on Saturday, play differently and beat Italy, we showed what we can do it in the friendly [a 4-1 win for Germany in March].

“We have the pedigree to win against any team and we want to show that.”

Italy boss Antonio Conte described Germany as “the most complete side in the world” after outlining the task facing his men.

Ozil added: “Naturally that’s a big compliment but we are aware of our strengths.

“We know our quality and the most important thing tomorrow is to win the game and to fulfil what the coach wants from us.”

There was certainly no shortage of self-belief from Arsenal playmaker Ozil.

“We always have confidence, we have great pedigree. We have experience mixed with young players of the highest quality. You can feel the energy, everyone has one goal; to become the champions,” he said.

“We knew from the start that we would confront strong opposition and now we have to succeed against them. We are thinking positively and I am convinced we can achieve big things together.”

Are you watching, Ronaldo? Wonderful Wales produce perfect team display


Wales are making history and they know it. After the players took a look at the pitch in Lille on Thursday, they lined up for a team photo with all of the staff. Twenty-four hours later, at the same venue, they have made it to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 with a 3-1 win over Belgium.

Together, stronger – that’s the team’s motto and it’s appropriate. In the pre-match press conference, coach Chris Coleman spoke of how sticking with each other in the “dark days” had helped this squad to bond. Captain Ashley Williams told the press: “This is a band of brothers.”

And the Welsh family are breaking new ground. Only once in the history of this footballing nation had they been in the quarter-finals of a major tournament – back at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden when John Charles et al were beaten by eventual champions Brazil and Pele.

“We were out in Portugal a few weeks ago and one of the players from the ’58 team came up and had a chat, we were talking about the 1958 experience at the World Cup,” Coleman told the media on Thursday. “When they arrived back in Swansea, they were asked where they had been, had they been on holiday? People didn’t know about the World Cup.”

But they know about this and now it’s the fans on holiday – and before the match those supporters sang throughout the day: “Please don’t take me home…” And their team duly obliged on the pitch with a quite brilliant performance after it looked like Belgium may run away with it in the early stages.

After some last-ditch defending denied Belgium an opener with three successive blocks in the box, Radja Nainggolan drove a stunning strike past Wayne Hennessey and into the top corner minutes later. Wales were behind and they were being outplayed.

But they soon recovered from that blow and, as Marc Wilmots’ men sat back, the Welsh began to grow in confidence. Belgium, with two 21-year-olds in a makeshift back line, should have kept on attacking but instead allowed their rivals back in the game and after 31 minutes, Ashley Williams headed home from a corner. It was no more than they deserved.

Williams typified the Welsh spirit in the previous match against Northern Ireland, when he kept playing despite an arm injury that seriously restricted his movement. Contrast that with some of the pampered egos in modern football and it is a special story. This a real team.

Belgium started stronger in the second half, but this time there was no goal and Wales went ahead with some spectacular skill from Hal Robson-Kanu as the striker received the ball in the box, wrong-footed three defenders with a Johan Cruyff-esque turn and fired into the corner to give Wales the lead.

It may be the best goal of this tournament yet and it was scored by an out-of-contract player who was released by Reading at the end of last season and who has previously spent spells at Swindon and Southend.

That sums up how Wales are punching above their weight and substitute Sam Vokes headed home a third later on from a Chris Gunter cross. The latter was supposed to be out in Mexico now for his brother’s wedding in Cancun – but he’ll happily take this moment instead.

For Belgium it is under-achievement again and Wilmots should be getting more from a team ranked second in the Fifa rankings, but Wales are making history and this time they didn’t even need the brilliance of Gareth Bale to win the match.

Bale has done much to get them here, however, and now meets his club colleague Cristiano Ronaldo in the last four, with one of the two teams still to advance to the final at Stade de France on July 10.

And whether Wales make it to Saint-Denis or not, Coleman’s men have dug deep with an exemplary effort from their collective to achieve something unprecedented for their nation on the football field. The manager said after the match: “Don’t be afraid to have dreams. Four years ago I was as far away from this as you could imagine. I’ve had more failures than successes but I’m not afraid to fail. We deserve this.”

Together, stronger.

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Buffon: It would be offensive to compare myself to Neuer

Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon insists there will be no inferiority complex when he comes up against Germany’s Manuel Neuer, a goalkeeper he once described as “better than him”, on Saturday.

Buffon and Neuer will be at opposite ends of the pitch when Italy take on the world champions in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals and the Juventus veteran is relishing the prospect.

“I said Neuer is better than me, because in the end it may be true,” he said. “It’s not something that bothers me or demeans me or what I am. I am well aware of what I have been, what I am now, and where I will be in two years. It makes me feel very calm.

“It would be offensive to compare him to a 38-year-old goalkeeper. It seems normal to give this kind of answer as, over the last four or five years, he has shown himself to be an outstanding goalkeeper in every aspect.”

Buffon concedes it will be a tough test for Antonio Conte’s men in Bordeaux and feels they will be “pushed to the limit”.

He added: “There is no other route other than to try to keep on improving as much as possible to give ourselves the chance to go through and keep dreaming.

“When you look at the side we face we know just how difficult it will be. It’s a match where there will be blood, sweat and tears and the emotional and physical aspect will be pushed to the limit but we are well aware of that and that’s important going into the match.

“Of course you have belief when you are midway through a tournament, be it a World Cup or European Championship, and you have beaten Belgium, Sweden and Spain.

“We have great awareness of what we’re doing and we have great belief.”

Buffon has twice played against Germany in semi-finals, at the World Cup in 2006 and Euro 2012, with Italy emerging victorious on both occasions. Indeed, Germany have never beaten the Azzurri at a major tournament.

Comparing those games to Saturday’s encounter, he said: “There was more anxiety in 2006. It was the semis of the World Cup against the host nation and we also had the burden that we wanted to prove something to all the foreign-based Italians.

“That definitely had an impact the day before the game.

“We weren’t the favourites in 2012 and we needed to come up with something special to reach the final and achieve something historic.

“As for Saturday’s game, there are a number of parallels with Euro 2012, certainly on paper, and the gap could be even more significant as, since then, they have won the World Cup.”

Fearlessness the key to Wales success, says Coleman

Wales manager Chris Coleman credited his success with the national team down to not being afraid to dream or fail after their stunning 3-1 Euro 2016 quarter-final victory over Belgium.

Belgium took the lead in the 13th minute of Friday’s contest at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy through a fierce long-range effort from Radja Nainggolan, only for Wales to dump out one of the pre-tournament favourites with a remarkable comeback.

Captain Ashley Williams headed Wales level on the half-hour mark before a superb turn and finish from Hal Robson-Kanu made it 2-1.

Sam Vokes’ fine late header made sure of progression to the semi-final, where Wales will meet Portugal in Lyon next Wednesday.

The run to the last four marks the first time Wales have reached the semis of a major tournament and represents an incredible turnaround in fortunes for a team that finished second bottom in their qualifying group for Euro 2012.

Speaking to BBC Sport after the match, Coleman said: “Don’t be afraid to have dreams. Four years ago, I was as far away from this as you can imagine. Look what’s happening.  

“If you work hard enough, and you’re not afraid to dream, and you’re not afraid to fail. Everybody fails. I’ve had more failures than I’ve had success, but I’m not afraid to fail. And every now and again – I can’t say every now and again, because this has never happened to me – I’m enjoying it, it’s sweet, and I think we deserve it.”

Coleman was particularly pleased with the way his side stuck to their principles of passing football and creativity, adding: “We were in a game where we created more chances. They had their fair share, but we competed.  

“That’s all we could ask of the players. We’ve got players like Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale, Joe Allen, players of that ilk. We’ve got to pass the ball. That’s what gets the best out of the team.

“Getting the best out of your best players gets the best out of the team. Everybody, all the players in the team can pass the ball. That’s what we try to do, whether it’s Belgium or anyone else.

“That was our only gripe in the England game [a 2-1 loss]. We never passed the ball. Normally in the games, we try to pass the ball. 

“We always try to stick to our strengths and our identity. We were determined to do it tonight, even if that meant we never got the result. We wanted to show people that we can be a very inventive team, and I thought we showed it.”

Allen: It will take something special to stop Wales

Joe Allen says it will take something special to beat Wales after his team came back from a goal down against Belgium to win 3-1 in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

The Liverpool midfielder found it hard to describe the emotions he was experiencing after his team booked a spot in the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time, their fairytale run on the big stage continuing.

Radja Nainggolan put the favourites up 1-0 after just 13 minutes in Lille, but goals from captain Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Voakes ensured Wales progressed to the last four, where they will face Portugal.

“I never thought we’d be in this position of [reaching] a semi-final,” Allen told beIN Sports after the game.

“What an achievement for everyone in the country and everyone involved.

“This is a moment that means so much to everyone.”

Allen bemoaned his role in Belgium’s opener as a misplaced ball gifted the opposition possession, but he praised the character of his team to get back into the game and go on to win, claiming the outcome was never in doubt once they had equalised.

“I gave a bad pass away and against a team like Belgium, you don’t want to give them a head start in the game,” he said.

“But truth be told, we knew we were going to score tonight and once that first goal went in everyone was confident we could go on and win the game.

“It took absolutely everything but this is what this team is about, we never, ever give up and it’s going to take something special to stop us.”

Wilmots: Belgium made too many mistakes against Wales

Marc Wilmots says his defence showed their inexperience against Wales as Belgium bowed out of Euro 2016 in the quarter-finals after a 3-1 defeat.

Belgium took an early lead through Radja Nainggolan but forfeited the initiative to Wales, who punished them with three goals to seal a historic win.

But despite the result, Wilmots said the tactical approach was sound as he suggested injuries – particularly in defence with Jan Vertonghen ruled out – and a lack of experience proved costly.

“We had a good strategy, we dominated, had an excellent 25 minutes but from nowhere we dropped 15 metres back. I was waving my arms, shouting,” he said.

“I’m not a magician. You can’t simply replace experience and my defence had an average of 23 years old. I can’t blame the players but they need to be a well-oiled machine. We had to replace 50 per cent of our backline, I can understand us conceding goals from set-pieces.

“Perhaps it was fear, because they are young. I don’t know. But I’m in charge of the team and that’s the best I thought we had.”

Wilmots acknowledged that Belgium were one of the sides rated as having a big chance of making the final and perhaps even winning it – even more so after they avoided the likes of Italy and Germany in the knockout stage.

“We had the core of the team and took the risk to bring in young players – they have a lot of potential, I’m not going to kill them,” he said.

“We were listed among the teams who could have gone all the way. We wanted to go further and of course the players are left with a bad taste. We made too many mistakes to win this match against a very good Wales side – they know how to play football and have good talent.”

And while the Belgium coach now faces a big battle to keep the top job, he remains undecided on his future.

“I said I’d make my decision after the championships, not straight after the game. I’m going to think about it. Give me time,” Wilmots