Euro 2016

Euro 2016: We're Belgium's jinx team: Bale

A relaxed and confident Gareth Bale during a Wales training session. His team-mates are no slouches but he will no doubt be their danger man again. The convivial atmosphere of the Wales camp and low-key build-up to big games are the perfect tonic for
A relaxed and confident Gareth Bale during a Wales training session. His team-mates are no slouches but he will no doubt be their danger man again. The convivial atmosphere of the Wales camp and low-key build-up to big games are the perfect tonic for their biggest match in decades.PHOTO: REUTERS

Welsh underdogs wary but ready to hurt rivals' golden generation in 'away' clash

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LILLE • An afternoon that began with the Wales players being tested on their knowledge of films on Wednesday finished with Gareth Bale scripting a nightmare ending for Belgium in the European Championship quarter-final.

It was the sequel to the football quiz organised to enhance squad morale and led the forward to liken the experience of the camp on the Brittany coast to being on holiday with his mates, providing a carefree atmosphere that they hope will do for Belgium today.

The Real Madrid player cleared off the line with just seconds left during the goal-less draw in Brussels and took advantage of a back-header to score the only goal when the teams met in the reverse Euro 2016 qualifying game a year ago, when he won his 50th cap.

He regards the goal as his most important as it also gave the team belief they could beat the top sides.

"We're like their bogey team, aren't we?" Bale said. "Hopefully that edge gets into their heads - you never know. We've had good results against them but they are a top team. We know how to play against them and how they play."

Wales are happy to cast themselves as underdogs but such modesty belies their proven ability to bite hard.

The Belgians, who finally came together as a team to demolish Hungary 4-0 in their last-16 match, will start as favourites.

But, playing before what will be virtually be a home crowd in the northern French town of Lille, they will be under huge pressure to perform - for their much-vaunted golden generation to fulfil their promise and finally challenge for a major trophy.

Wales, who are playing in their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, could also claim to have developed a golden generation, spearheaded by Bale, even if they have fewer illustrious players than the side ranked No. 2 in the world.

"We're good normally in that situation when we're right up against it," defender Chris Gunter said.

All eyes will be on the form of 26-year-old Bale, though.

The world's most expensive player has scored three goals in France and fired in the cross that led to Northern Ireland's own goal in Wales' 1-0 last-16 victory. His ability to seize the moment, not least at free kicks, could be pivotal.

But Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld is keen to play down the importance of Bale and instead stresses that Belgium must be more ruthless in front of goal against a defence-minded Wales.

When Wales drew 0-0 in Brussels last November, Bale played as the main striker. He is more likely to play behind Hal Robson-Kanu in Lille and Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said his midfielders need to track his runs.

Belgium, however, have greater depth. Playmaker Kevin de Bruyne has been a tireless and influential figure, while Romelu Lukaku scored 27 goals in 52 appearances for Everton last season and always looks threatening.

Still, Wales manager Chris Coleman said: "But in the last four years we've had four meetings and won one and drawn two, so there's nothing to be afraid of."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'We're Belgium's jinx team: Bale'. Print Edition | Subscribe