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Wales Advance To Euro 2016 Quarters

Wales beat Northern Ireland in the round of 16 to advance to the Euro 2016 quarter finals while Portugal beat Croatia after extra-time.

gareth bale

Euro 2016: Round of 16
Switzerland 1 Poland 1 (Poland win on pens)
Wales 1 Northern Ireland 0
Portugal 1 Croatia 0 (aet)

dave bowler logo for wales articleBy Dave Bowler

We’ve endured a barren 48 hours as the Euros took a break, returning finally today with the knock-out stages and three such awful games that it made you wish they’d taken a third day off instead.

Poland – and as we will come to, Portugal too – continue to underwhelm and yet make progress, albeit that they finally conceded a goal in the tournament, a wonderful scissor kick from the edge of the box by Shakiri which gave the Swiss a late, but well deserved, equaliser to take the game into extra-time and then penalties after they’d hit the woodwork and forced a couple of fine saves from Fabianski.

The Poles had opened the scoring with a smart counterattack started by a brilliant throw out by Fabianski in the 38th minute, Blaszczykowski giving them the lead in a game which, to that point, they had just about shaded. But thereafter, it was the Swiss who took control of the fixture, only to suffer from the inability to hit the back of the net from a string of decent chances that has afflicted virtually every nation in the tournament.

Quaresma Scores For Portugal

With Poland hanging on, they took it all the way to penalties which finally saw Lewandowski get a chance to score, the striker having thus far sacrificed his individual aspirations to the good of the team. Xhaka smacked his effort wide, leaving Krychowiak to drill in the decisive spot kick taking the Poles into the last eight.

It turned out that that game was the highlight of the day because Croatia versus Portugal was the kind of mind numbing spectacle that you’d think only the Kardashians could serve up. Without a shot on target in the 90 minutes, extra time was marginally worse. Modric was clearly some way short of fitness while Ronaldo was starved of service and this time chose not to go looking for the ball, clearly instructed to just stay up front.

The game finally woke up in the last five minutes of extra time when, after Perisic had stabbed a header against the post, a lightning Portuguese break ended with Nani miscuing horribly, the shot dropping perfectly for Ronaldo. His effort was well saved, the ball bouncing up nicely for Quaresma to head in from a yard out and send them through to play the Poles, in spite of an effort from My Little Vida that flashed wide in the final seconds. On the evidence of today, I wouldn’t make any special arrangements to catch it.

Wales Through To Quarter Finals

Wales have to wait to see whether they take on Belgium or Hungary in the last eight after squeezing through with a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland. In terms of quality, it was the kind of game we’d feared, a Tuesday night League Cup tie between Championship opponents as the two sides largely cancelled one another out with the kind of typically British fare that will have UEFA looking to follow the EU by chucking the Brits out in future.

But if the quality wasn’t there, the determination and the character that you associate with both sides was there in spades. Northern Ireland continued to be supremely organised at the back and for long stretches of the game were able to completely nullify the threat of Bale, Ramsey and Allen, leading Wales to concentrate on their own defensive work in order to eliminate any costly mistakes. They did so brilliantly, Chester imposing, Williams the very image of bravery, battling through the last ten minutes with his left arm hanging off after a thunderous collision with Williams.

Gareth Bale To The Rescue

Coleman is a shrewd enough manager to understand that however a game is going for his team, even when they are second best as they were today, if they can keep the ball out, in Bale they have a footballer who just needs one glimpse of goal to make something remarkable happen. He did it again when Hughes was too slow to get out to the Northern Irish right as the ball reached Bale.

With time to look up and play his cross without any pressure, he was able to spear it into the six yard box, too far out for the goalkeeper, forcing McAuley to try and make some kind of interception knowing that Robson-Kanu was hovering behind him. In doing so, all that the hero of the win over Ukraine that got them this far could do was put the ball into his own net and put Wales through.

It’s a cruel game sometimes.

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