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More to Wales than Bale

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 02-07-2016
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Wales are into the Euro 2016 semi-finals after an historic 3-1 win over Belgium. On the greatest night in the country's footballing history, Chris Coleman's side showed there's much more to them than Gareth Bale... 

Wales will never forget what happened in Lille on Friday night. The perennial underdogs hadn't graced a major tournament for over half a century before this summer, but they have made an indelible mark on Euro 2016 and their extraordinary adventure may take them all the way to the final on July 10.

Before thoughts turn to the prospect of a last-four showdown with Portugal, Chris Coleman's side will savour this extraordinary quarter-final. Things were looking bleak when Radja Nainggolan thumped home a stunning opener for the star-studded Belgians in the 12th minute, but this Wales side read from their own scripts.

A header from Ashley Williams and a magical strike from Hal Robson-Kanu turned the contest on its head, and substitute Sam Vokes wrapped up an astonishing win with a late third from Chris Gunter's cross.

It was an outstanding collective effort which made a mockery of suggestions that Wales are a one-man team. Gareth Bale's contribution in France has been invaluable, of course, but his team-mates took centre stage against Belgium.

In central midfield, Aaron Ramsey provided more compelling evidence that he should be among the contenders for player of the tournament - his only obstacle being the second-half yellow card that so cruelly ruled him out of the semi-final.

Photos: Wales 3-1 Belgium

Wales beat Belgium 3-1 to book a clash against Portugal in the semi-finals of Euro 2016 Wales 3-1 Belgium

On this evidence, he will be a huge miss. Ramsey was guilty of giving Nainggolan too much space for Belgium's goal, but from then on he barely put a foot wrong. His corner found Williams for the equaliser, and he was the architect of the second goal too.

His lung-busting run into the right channel was perfectly picked out by Bale, but there was still an awful lot of work for Ramsey to do. His first touch was impeccable, and the cross was perfectly measured for Robson-Kanu. The striker's brilliant turn and finish rightly took the plaudits, but it wouldn't have been possible without Ramsey.

It was his second assist of the night and his fourth of the tournament. No player at Euro 2016 has more. But those moments only told part of the story. Ramsey created twice as many scoring chances as any other player on the pitch (six), and it typified Wales' team ethic that he managed to keep focus after his heart-breaking booking. By the time he was substituted in the 89th minute, he had run himself into the ground for the good of the team.

Watch: Wales 3-1 Belgium review

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Ramsey took the man-of-the-match award but it could easily have gone to Robson-Kanu, the man without a club whose moment of magic tipped the contest in Wales' favour. On Thursday, the 27-year-old's contract at Championship club Reading officially expired after just five goals in 35 appearances in 2015/16. On Friday, he produced the greatest moment in his country's footballing history.

After receiving Ramsey's cross with his back to goal, Robson-Kanu wrong-footed three Belgian players with a dummy before executing a Cruyff turn the man himself would have been proud of. The finish, coolly side-footed to Thibaut Courtois' right, was just as impressive. He is unlikely to be a free agent for long.

It was his second goal of the tournament after his winner against Slovakia, and his all-round performance against Belgium was excellent. Robson-Kanu targeted the inexperienced Jason Denayer and Jordan Lukaku on the left-hand side of Belgium's injury-hit defence. They struggled to cope with his physicality, and his selfless movement opened up spaces for his team-mates to attack.

Then there was Williams, who delivered a captain's performance in the heart of the Welsh defence. His evening was summed up between two actions in the space of two minutes before the break. First, he powered Ramsey's corner into the net for the equalising goal, then he produced a crunching tackle on the edge of his own box to halt a Belgium attack.

Marc Wilmots' men couldn't get close to Williams at Wales' set pieces, with no player managing more than his four shots on goal, and he was just as influential when it came to keeping them contained at the other end alongside fellow centre-backs James Chester and Ben Davies.

Williams ranked first for clearances (seven), and there was an outstanding defensive header to prevent Thomas Meunier's cross from reaching Romelu Lukaku for what would have been an easy Belgium chance just three minutes before Robson-Kanu put Wales in front.

Burnley striker Vokes then joined his team-mates in the history books with his thumping header for the third goal, and euphoria took over at the final whistle. Wales are into the first major tournament semi-final in their history. Bale is their talisman, but they got their together. There could be more heroes before it's time to go home.

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