Chris Coleman urges Wales to meet challenge of biggest game in their history
Gareth Bale and fellow attackers will hope to exploit Belgium’s defensive problems
A relaxed Gareth Bale and Joe Ledley fool around during Wales’ training session in Lille yesterday ahead of their quarter-final encounter against Belgium tonight. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Chris Coleman wants his Wales players to stay hungry and try to advance in tonight’s quarter-final against Belgium, rather than merely being satisfied with being the last home nation still involved at Euro 2016.
“I’ve heard it said that Wales can’t lose whatever happens, but that’s not the way we are looking at it,” the manager said. “We see this as another big test, a huge challenge in a line of challenges that we have already met. The pressure is on us to keep performing, and that’s what we want to do, because you have to put this down as the biggest game our country has been involved in, which is a great place to be.
“I don’t mean any disrespect to the team that reached the World Cup quarter-final in 1958 by that, but no one knew about that tournament – we’ve all heard the stories about the players coming home and being asked where they had been. Things are a little bit different now, we are where we are and we have earned it. We might be under pressure against a top team like Belgium but it’s fantastic pressure to have.”
Belgium were reinstalled among the tournament favourites after their handsome round-of-16 victory against Hungary, though they have a few defensive problems going into the game in Lille.
Already missing Thomas Vermaelen through suspension, Marc Wilmots lost another key defender the day before the game when Tottenham Hotspur’s Jan Vertonghen twisted an ankle in training. Initial reports suggested he might be out for four months.
Wales have a good record against Belgium, having met them in qualifying and secured a draw in Brussels followed by a famous victory in Cardiff, though Coleman would rather make history than rely on it.
“What I’ll be telling my players is that the games we’ve had in the past count for nothing, it’s all about the next game,” he said.
“This is a quarter-final, we are in the knockout stage. It’s an isolated game, there will be no second chances, no taking a draw or fighting another day. At the end of the night one team will be going home, and we don’t want it to be us. We’ve got to be at our best to max out the game, and that’s what the boys keep doing.”
Ashley Williams appears to have won his fitness battle and is set to play after overcoming the shoulder injury he picked up against Northern Ireland, when his refusal to come off the pitch exemplified both his own indomitable style and the celebrated team spirit within the Wales camp.
“It’s all true, we are a band of brothers,” Williams said. “The togetherness we have comes from the tough times we have known – we have grown up together. I heard Chris Gunter say we were unbreakable the other day and that’s exactly what it is. We have all been through so much.”
Coleman can also vouch for that. After taking over the Wales job in difficult circumstances following the death of Gary Speed, he became the first Wales manager to lose his first five matches. He considered quitting after a 6-1 defeat in Serbia as Wales failed to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil, but stayed on and eventually saw a turnaround in results that ultimately led to Wales reaching a tournament for the first time since 1958.
“This campaign has been a success, but we have all known some tough times not too long ago,” he said.
“We have had dark days and huge disappointments, and that’s when you find out about the people around you. That’s when you judge people, not on the sunshiny days, and that’s where you get your team spirit from. It comes from standing up for yourself in adversity, from fighting on and refusing to give in.
“Team spirit can only come from events on the pitch – that’s where you see players standing up for each other. If it comes from anywhere else it’s false if you ask me. That’s why I am happy to have Ashley as my captain. I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that a team needs a leader, that you need a strong character to lead a strong dressing room, and Ashley has never let me down.” Guardian Service