After England and Iceland game, we have seen yet another upset in Euro quarter finals as Wales surprisingly easily dealt with heavily favoured Belgium side. Although for different reasons, both favourites got an early lead and failed to progress against “smaller” side. While England succumbed to pressure, Belgium seemed to have no coherent plan how to beat their opponents to begin with.
While Wales came into the match knowing it will be a hard battle they prepared for it, while Belgium seemed confident their quality in attack will be enough to cover for depleted defence. However, it was their attack that really disappointed and not the defence thatconcededd three goals. At times it seemed asWilmotss was playing a match of FIFA on playstation, passing the ball to Hazard and hoping he will dribble it into the net eventually.
However, the game started rather confusing for Wales. Joe Allen lost couple of balls as he passed horizontal long balls, an action that is under “Don’t do it” section in football manual. Apart from dubious passing decisions in possession there was a lot of confusion in early minutes in Wales defensive positioning.
Davies is completely distracted leaving Carrasco on side, Bale is pushing forward instead of covering Witsel and huge space behind him with Lukaku and Meunier completely free to receive the ball. In this instance Nianggolan chose to ping a long direct ball to Carrasco. However, he is so late in his decision making that, despite the hiccup in Welsh defence, right winger ends up in off side.
Opening 15 minutes were plagued by Welsh poor defensive positioning and soon after, instead closing down Nianggolan, Ramsey decides to cover the goal. That produces one of the best goals of tournament as Nianggolan hits a thunder strike into the top corner.
At that moment psychology started to influence the game heavily. Belgium seemed as they thought that Nianggolan’s individual brilliance is just a small part of what is to come while Wales actually picked themselves up defensively. On offence they were quite dangerous already.
However, above you can see how much more of the ball Wales had between 12th, when Nianggolan scored, and 30th minute when Williams got an equaliser. While Bale initially started on the left side of Robinson Kanu he slowly moved to right as somebody has reminded him there is young Lukaku Junior, Denayer (making his début at EURO) and Hazard who doesn’t track back.
Just a minute before conceding Belgium allowed one of characteristic counter attacks from Wales you can see that above. Belgium lost the ball and failed to track back into defensive position. Quick play sees Ramsey in possession and, within three touches, Bale is released behind the defensive line. Hardly any of Belgium players are in good defensive position. Hazard is notoriously released from tracking back, Lukaku is completely out of position while the worst is Denyer who can hardly deny a pass to Bale with his body orientation and positioning so close to Alderweireld.
Everything that went on for Wales went over Ramsey and Bale. Bale was crucial moving in half spaces from deeper positions while Ramsey was designated as the link between midfield and attack. This link was so effective due to clever movement by Welsh players, however, a lot of credit goes to Marc Wilmots’ side.
They were defending extremely deep, probably to deny space for Bale’s runs, however that obviously didn’t work as Bale wasn’t playing on the shoulder of the defenders. He was coming from deep to pick the through balls or for solo runs.
Above you can see how poor Belgium positioning is. Taylor on the ball isn’t pressed by anyone, he has his head high and calculating his options with time. He has Allen, Leadley, Bale and Gunter(on the right touchline out of view) to pick from. Intensity, or lack of, the Belgium defence was appalling. They half bothered to pick up players in their zones of responsibility, defended too deep and let all the time on the ball for Wales to pick their options during whole first half.
At half time it was evident Wales was targeting right flank where Lukaku and Denyer failed to cope with runs of their opponents. They didn’t try at all to disturb Wales’ entering the middle third and allowed easy avenues for Wales to go down right flank.
After initial 15 minutes when they scored, they failed to create anything apart crosses for Lukaku who was lost between three defenders. Only visible attempt to create space was Lukaku dropping deep to open up the space for De Bruyne who was advancing from CAM position. However, that ended in the lap of three center backs. Anything else was up to individual decisions and qualities of their offensive players.
With second half kick off Wilmots made few changes in personnel and their approach to the game. Belgium finally showed intention to close down Wales in their defensive zone in attempt to win the possession a bit higher.
However, this was usually poorly coordinated between Lukaku and rest of offensive trio De Bruyne, Nianggolan and Hazard. Wilmots also substituted Carrasco with Fellaini who was supposed to help Lukaku with those high balls. This brought changes in their shape as well. De Bruyne was moved wide while Fellaini came closer to goal exchanging his place with Nianggolan on CAM position. However, general idea of play didn’t change at all.
As time passed it seemed as intention was to give the ball to Hazard and hope he will do something with it other than get clogged in eight men Welsh wall. Other part of Wilmots’ plan with Fellaini’s presence was to rise the number of Crosses. From 15 in the first half Belgium got to 19 during the second. Only three of total 34 crosses connected. Sadly, there was nothing else to their game. They took away the possession from Wales but failed to do anything with it. Below is still shot of their typical attack.
Hazard who was playing on the left wing is bunching up with Nianggolan at CAM position while at the same time De Bruyne cuts in from right wing and Lukaku dropping deep. Even Witsel is coming to the party from his covering position. Although Welsh defensive positioning is far from perfect in this instance, they have taken half of Belgium squad out of the game.
In meanwhile, on the other side of the pitch…
Belgium was poor at defending in first half, but with beginning of second, when they started to press higher up the pitch, lack of defensive cohesion became apparent. As Bale makes a long direct pass for Ramsey’s run, Denayer and Fellaini fail to track while Lukaku is occupied with Gunter. Ramsey is free to run into space left behind the defensive line and another poor defensive display lets Robson Kanu to free himself from three Belgians and score.
As time went on Wilmots and his player were ever more nervous and, as they didn’t have sound plan to attack Wales, things got only worse. Changed to sort of 3-4-3 and then 3-3-4 in dying minutes meant only more confusion as players tripped on each other in front of Welsh goal and in the end another break down the right finished off the game.
To conclude, we can point few crucial moments. Above all it was Belgium that went on the field expecting an easy win after they trashed Hungary. However, Wales defended much better and Belgium ran out of luck and space for their star offence to shine. Furthermore, they were appalling in defence which was, kind of, expected, but offensive class should make up for that. If Wilmots had any idea how to attack.
Wales on other hand didn’t have the hardest job defensively as Belgium worked against itself for the most part of the match. With the ball, however, they did amazing job first half as opposition failed to cope with deep forward runs from Bale and Ramsey. Again, Belgium had their part in it as it was defending very deep and didn’t make an attempt to close higher and prevent Wales from getting to middle third. However, we have seen why in the second half. They are just too disjointed when pressing high to be effective leaving even more space for runners from deep.
If anything, as Belgium commited in attack, they left more space for Ramsey and Bale to run behind disjointed defensive lines.