Brussels, and Belgium, will show what Bale and Co. are really made of

By Jamie Thomas

The best start to a qualifying campaign for 12 years, undefeated after three games, leading two recent World Cup Finalists at the top of their group – it sounds like it has been a great few months for Welsh Football.

On Sunday though they’ll face their toughest test of the group to date as Chris Coleman and his men head to Belgium to face one of the most complete sides in Europe in their own backyard. Read on to see how we assess Wales’ chances!

Great chance - Gareth Bale will lead Wales in Belgium

Great chance – Gareth Bale will lead Wales in Belgium

The Story so Far:

Despite the numerous plus points mentioned earlier on, Wales’ start hasn’t been without its difficulties – each of the three matches played so far have brought their own problems.

Qualifying Problems:

In Andorra the pitch was a talking point, to say the least.

The Welsh were the first team to play on the artificial pitch and it was clear to see that the surface hadn’t had the required attention from Mother Nature that it needed – a splash of rain beforehand would’ve made for a completely different match.

Nonetheless, victories earned through adversity build character.

That character was thoroughly tested throughout the next international window as, with a midfield ravaged by injury, Wales had to switch to 5-3-2 to keep Bosnia honest before an early injury and a sending off made the Cyprus clash much more complicated than it should have been.

The Welsh persisted though and found themselves top of the group on merit.

A new dilemma:

Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Robert Earnshaw, John Hartson, Craig Bellamy – over the last 30 years Wales have had a recognised threat leading the line for them.

Yes, Wales have Bale now but he fills the role that Giggs filled back in his day – both mercurial talents but even they can’t do it all on their own.

Giggs’ list of strike partners has been listed above – who has Bale got?

Simon Church has been the striker of choice so far but for one reason or another hasn’t been able to get going and is set to miss this clash because of an injury – the right man to replace him is Hal Robson-Kanu.

He’s not a striker by trade, as you will know, but certain facets of his game cover one of Wales’ and Bale’s biggest weaknesses – that they don’t press the ball early, nor robustly enough at times.

Bale’s sometimes lacking defensive effort has been well documented and against Bosnia Simon Church was just as guilty – I think it speaks wonders for the last two matches that they both swung Wales’ way when Robson-Kanu led the attack with Bale.

Also, with Robson-Kanu picking up some defensive responsibilities, it means Bale can concentrate more on finding the spaces that will make him so dangerous on the counter-attack.

Robson-Kanu is so dynamic, tireless and really encourages his teammates to press the ball early and vigorously and with Church out with an injury, the stage is set for him to step up to the plate!

Red Mist - Will Robson-Kanu lead the line against Belgium?

Red Mist – Will Robson-Kanu lead the line against Belgium?

A lot to be optimistic about:

Although there are still a few notable absentees, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen return in this fixture and despite the form of their respective clubs, it’ll be a huge boost for Wales to have them back.

Make no mistake – this is a great opportunity for Wales. They’re playing the best football they’ve played for years and will go to Belgium with thousands of supporters behind them.

Factor in that Vincent Kompany is a doubt and that some of Belgium’s better individuals haven’t always been their same mesmerising selves when playing for their country as they are for their clubs and you could forgive the Welsh fans for being quite optimistic going into the game.

Belgium showed in the World Cup that they struggle to get into a rhythm at times and if Wales can continue to work as relentlessly as they have in defence so far in this group, they can do well here.

The Welsh have had issues to contend with so far in this group: bad pitches, injuries, etc. however heading into this game they are in great shape and have as good a chance as ever of making it four games undefeated in the group!

 

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