5 talking points for Wales' Euro 2016 quarter-final with Belgium


It's nearly time: Wales are hours away from taking on Belgium in one of the biggest nights in the nation's football history.

Wales v Belgium head to head

Here are five of the big talking points ahead of the main event.

1. Who'll come out on top: Gareth Bale or Eden Hazard?

Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard battle for the ball
(Nick Potts/EMPICS)

The match within the match is the battle between Bale and Hazard. Two of the greatest talents in world football, two free-kick experts and two undisputed match-winners. The last time they shared the same international pitch a year ago Bale came up with the winner in Wales' 1-0 victory. Wales managed to shut Hazard out by crowding him whenever he had possession that night, but the Chelsea forward is in fine form and Belgium will be praying he has fully recovered from a leg injury to play. With three goals in this tournament, Bale has already made his mark at Euro 2016 - and their private battle might go a long way to deciding which nation makes the last four.

2. How serious is Ashley Williams' shoulder problem?

Wales captain Ashley Williams holds his shoulder
(Owen Humphreys/PA)

Wales captain Williams was in great pain at the end of their last-16 victory over Northern Ireland in Paris last Saturday. The centre-back suffered an awkward fall after colliding with team-mate Jonathan Williams, damaging his shoulder but somehow getting through the closing moments. Wales are confident that Williams will be fit to take his place against Belgium, but he looked in discomfort at a public training session on Tuesday. James Collins would be a worthy replacement, but Williams has been the rock at the heart of a well-organised Wales defence for some years now. His absence would be a huge blow for Wales.

3. Can the Red Devils conquer their demons?

Thibaut Courtois looks dejected while playing for Belgium
(Nick Potts/EMPICS)

Belgium's Red Devils have risen to the top of the world rankings in the past and currently sit at number two on the Fifa list. So you would think this stellar squad has little to get uptight about. Except that they have failed to beat Wales in three games over the last two-and-a-half years. Paired together in the last two qualifying campaigns, Wales fought out 1-1 and 0-0 draws in Brussels before that memorable win in Cardiff a year ago. Look at the two teams on paper and there would only appear one winner, but Belgium must hurdle a psychological obstacle to exorcise their Welsh demons and prove Chris Coleman's side are not their bogey team.

4. Will Aaron Ramsey continue to thrive?

Aaron Ramsey playing for Wales
(Petr David Josek/AP)

Ever since Aaron Ramsey turned to the peroxide bottle on the eve of the Euros, the Arsenal midfielder has been determined to show that blonds have more fun. While Bale has dominated headlines and column inches with his spectacular goals and regular appearances before the media, Ramsey has run the show from midfield. So much so that it could be argued that he has had a better tournament than Bale thus far - with two assists, one goal and more tackles won in the final third than any other player at Euro 2016. Ramsey can run all day and if Belgium allow him to find space in front of their back four then they could be dicing with danger.

5. How much of an effect will the pitch have?

The pitch at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy

The condition of the Stade Pierre Mauroy surface at Lille remains a concern, despite a new pitch being relaid by Uefa. The surface was in a poor state after hosting four matches at the group stage, with officials blaming torrential rain for its condition. UEFA responded by importing a new pitch from Holland for Germany's last-16 win over Slovakia. But the pitch was patchy in places and neither Wales nor Belgium will train on it on Thursday. With more rain forecast ahead of Friday's game, UEFA will be hoping that the pitch does not cut up and provide embarrassing pictures before a television audience of millions.