FC Salzburg
Eintracht Frankfurt
9:00 AM UTC
Leg 2Aggregate: 1 - 4
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Low's new Germany comes at a price


Wales are underdogs but can capitalise on any Belgium weakness

England and Wales might have many things in common but there's no love lost between their respective football teams and, after video footage emerged showing the Welsh players' wildly celebrating Iceland's victory, few English fans will be in the mood to transfer their support.

"It might have looked slightly over the top, but it wasn't meant that way," said defender Chris Gunter. "We were just proud to be the last home nations team in the tournament and football has a funny way of bringing out emotions."

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In sport, as in so much else, pride can often announce itself shortly before a fall, but the Welsh players can be forgiven for enjoying the moment. The public war of words before the group stage game against England, led for the most part by Gareth Bale and Jack Wilshere, was widely reported, but seemed little more than healthy rivalry.

And while the scenes of Welsh celebration did appear over the top and churlish, they were understandable in the context of the tournament. Besides, aren't we usually complaining that footballers seem disconnected from the fans?

In any case, the attention of the Welsh players will have already shifted to matters of greater importance, namely their quarterfinal with Belgium on Friday. Critics might say that, from a quality point of view, the round-of-16 match with Northern Ireland was a tremendous advertisement for the English Championship, but no-one in the camp will care too much about entertainment value at a time like this.

Wales are making history with every stride but they're also making their future far easier. Every result will drive them further up the FIFA rankings, potentially earning them a more comfortable qualifying campaign for Euro 2020. Even if Belgium thunder four goals past them in Lille, this will have been the most successful Welsh campaign ever.

And yet, in spite of Belgium's undoubted strengths, that seems an unlikely outcome. They have been improving steadily since their opening night defeat by Italy and the morale boost from their late flurry of goals against Hungary is not to be undervalued. But Hungary made chances of their own; 16 in total, including seven shots inside the penalty area.

Wales will also make chances and can land punches. Obviously, Bale will be crucial in that respect. But beyond their talisman came a huge boost this week when redoubtable centre-back Ashley Williams returned to training, after what was feared to be a dislocated shoulder was confirmed as bruising.

Williams is a giant, literally and figuratively, in this team. He exudes authority and radiates the sort of calm that will prove crucial, especially now that Eden Hazard has rediscovered the form that won him England's Footballer of the Year award in 2015.

Wales celebrate
Wales have reached the quarterfinals of a major tournament for the second time.

Belgium arguably have one of the most talented squads of individuals in France and it will be a huge challenge for Williams and his teammates to keep Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens quiet, let alone the formidable force of Romelu Lukaku. But Wales haven't wilted under any challenge yet.

There is perhaps something else to be taken from the off-field activities of the Belgian camp. Just days before the game, it emerged that Thomas Meunier, the right back who has started the last three games, had left the camp to discuss a move from Club Brugge to Paris Saint-Germain.

At the same time, Michy Batshuayi, who scored against Hungary, is reported to be finalising the details of his move to Chelsea. Belgium manager Marc Wilmots can be a relaxed man but it's still a curious decision to allow two players to be distracted by major career moves just 48 hours before such an important game.

His opposite number Chris Coleman has excelled in press conferences this summer, keeping the mood light-hearted and taking any opportunity to stir a little discord in the opposition wherever he can. Privately -- and perhaps even publicly -- you can expect him to convince his players that Belgium are complacent.

And for all Belgium's powers, they are not a perfect team. While Italy and Iceland are two teams that appear to be playing at the absolute maximum of their potential, there's still a sense that there could be more to come from Wilmots' men. That their laissez faire approach, which can cultivate creativity and spontaneity, might lead to vulnerability.

Those players, who celebrated Iceland's win with such gusto, have tempted fate and they've certainly tempted English fans into a temporary loan period as Belgium supporters. But Wales have every chance of securing another fine result. They have nothing whatsoever to lose and, when Bale is on the pitch, anything is possible

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.


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