The fairy tale continues for both Wales and Northern Ireland, in their first ever presence at the EURO, which was combined with a qualification to the round of 16. Both teams will aim to take their campaign one step further, but Wales are considered as a slight favorite by the bookmakers.
Wales not only managed to qualify after their first EURO appearance in their history, but they qualified as first of the group which also featured England, Russia and Slovakia. Their last game against Russia was treated like a final, as whoever lost at that game would be disqualified. However, Wales managed to turn that game into a one-sided affair after easily overcoming the Russians with 3-0. Coach Coleman played a little game of chess with his Russian counterpart, as he let the Russians have the possession of the ball and tried to strike with counter-attacks. His plan worked, as the Russian defensive line drifted further towards the midfield, with their defenders being exposed by the pacy Bale and Ramsey. So, Wales were reaching the opposite keeper with ease, and it seemed like a matter of time until they scored. Aaron Ramsey drew first blood at just the 11th minute, with left back Taylor doubling the goals before the Russians knew what hit them. Russia tried to come back in the game, but their efforts were fruitless, while the Welsh were growing more and more dangerous in the open field thanks to the velocity in which they launched their counter-attacks. The final score of the match was formed at the 67th minute, with Gareth Bale scoring his third goal of this competition and securing a triumphant win for his team. Thanks to that outcome, Wales not only qualified for the round of 16 but they also finished at the top of their group, leaving England and Slovakia behind them. Their biggest weapon so far is their solid defense, the system with 3 center-backs fits like a glove in Coleman’s team as they don’t allow the opposing teams to reach their goalkeeper. Ramsey and Bale are their biggest performers up front, with Bale featured at the top scorers list along with Spain’s Alvaro Morata. The big question for Wales now is whether their starters withstand the fatigue of the consecutive games, as their bench is not very deep.
On the other hand, Northern Ireland met their sweetest defeat in the finale of the group stage against Germany. Despite the loss, they booked their ticket to the round of 16 as they were one of the best 3rd placed teams, and what did the trick was their better goal difference compared to Turkey and Albania that tied with them at 3 points. They knew before the game that a small margin defeat to the Germans could be enough to see them through, that’s why coach Michael O’Neill used an ultra-defensive setup against the reigning World Champions. Naturally, Germany dominated the game with 72% possession and numerous chances to score, but they only did that once with Mario Gomez at the 29th minute. The Germans kept on pushing for another goal but their efforts were stopped by either the woodwork, or the opposing keeper, as McGovern had some amazing saves with the 0-1 being the final score which sent the British to the next round. This is a huge success for Northern Ireland to reach the round of 16 in their first EURO ever, as they were in a group with Germany, Poland and Ukraine, but managed to advance nonetheless. They have a team full of players that put personal fame aside, and play as a tight group. They are a very defensive squad as they have only conceded 2 goals so far, having been matched against some of the most lethal strikers in the tournament.
Both teams are playing the most important match of their countries’ history and it will be a huge success for any team that reaches the quarter-finals. After all, this is another British derby, and in these matches, passion and determination could be catalytic to the outcome. Both teams have made a huge leap to be in this position and they will give it all to qualify to the next stage, in a game were they will both be very tactical and few goals are to be expected. Bale and Ramsey have proven time and time again that they can lead their team to victory, but the Northern Irish are a tough nut to crack. This is a very tough match-up to predict, but the Welsh are slightly better in my eyes. My two strongest bests for this game is Wales to win, and Under 2 Goals scored.
Prediction : Wales to win (+102) / Under 2 goals (-161)