By Jamie Thomas.
Wales’ assistant manager Osian Roberts admits Belgium are in their best ever form – but he still believes they can exploit any weaknesses.
Chris Coleman’s No2 is confident ahead of Friday’s top-of-the-table Group B clash after doing his homework on the Red Devils with a trip to Paris on Sunday to witness the Marouane Fellaini-inspired 4-3 victory.
While Roberts was full of praise for the newly-crowned second best team in the world – who have risen nine places from 11th to their highest ever position in the Fifa rankings – he insists Wales are capable of causing an upset after November’s shut-out.
He said: “Nothing they did against France surprised us; they’ve been playing that way for a while but I think what you saw was that they’re in a rich run of form at the moment. That’s the best I’ve seen them play for a while.
“To go to the Stade de France and dominate the game for 70 minutes, score four – a total they could have increased had it not been for the changes – is very impressive. We’re under no illusions at how difficult it is going to be.
“Of course they have weaknesses, but when they go forward they’re quite awesome really. They did concede three so there’s a question mark there from our viewpoint.
“We’ve played five games and five different systems in qualifying but every time we play Belgium we play the same way and it has worked – we know their strengths and we’ll be aware of those.
“Similarly we know our own but we couldn’t quite capitalise on the opportunities to show those strengths out in Brussels in November. But if we can just have that extra bit of quality in transition, then there’s hope that we can cause them some problems for sure.”
Wales face a depleted Belgium, who will be without influential Fellaini due to a groin injury and also suspended Vincent Kompany. The Manchester City star’s teen replacement Jason Denayer – who Roberts was particularly impressed with at the Stade de France – is also a doubt.
Roberts knows they will never have a better chance of beating their world-class opponents than when they are missing key players but admits they still need to be wary of the threat from Zenit St Petersburg midfielder Axel Witsel and Roma’s Radja Nainggolan.
Roberts added: “Missing Kompany? Did you see Denayer play on the weekend? He was outstanding, absolutely outstanding.
“That’s what they’ve got at the moment, that strength in depth and it isn’t stopping at the top level – their youth set-up is full of talent like this also. Denayer was excellent though, quick, aggressive, he steps out, he runs with the ball – that’s something we struggled to deal with against Israel.
“Kompany is of course the leader and the experienced one but this boy coming in was outstanding in a game of that magnitude. In the Stade de France he was terrific on the night, a more than adequate replacement.
“That trio in midfield is something they’ve adapted in their last three games. One of the most impressive things with the power of Witsel is the strength and ability to hold up the ball from Fellaini. Then there’s the discipline of Nainggolan behind them, who controls everything, but he’s also so key defensively to them. Those three stand out for me.”
Coleman took on the Wales job in tremendously difficult circumstances after the tragic loss of Gary Speed. Roberts heaped praise on his boss for guiding them from one of their darkest periods to five wins and two draws, and the brink of Euro 2016 qualification.
Roberts said: “What is great about it is that we’ve got a spirit in the camp that really wants to pull together and do well, and Chris creates that environment.
“When he came in it was the most horrendous time to take over but the way that he’s turned it around, galvanised everybody, and built a nation’s hopes, all credit to him.
“Thierry Henry said that the success that Wales have had means that the nation now believes – and he is very much responsible for that.”
Wales’ Euro 2016 qualifier against Belgium is on Friday, June 12, kick-off at 7.45pm, or watch it on Sky Sports 5.
Read more from Jamie Thomas here!