Wales stuns Belgium 3-1 at European Championship
LILLE, FRANCE >> Wales stormed back from a goal down to beat Belgium 3-1 in a pulsating quarterfinal on Friday at the European Championship.
This time Wales did not need to rely on its star player Gareth Bale, as it fought back from trailing in the 13th minute to secure its first ever berth in a semifinal of a major tournament.
Unheralded forwards Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes settled the game with goals in the 55th and 85th minutes. In Robson-Kanu's career-best moment, he deceived three defenders with a 'Cruyff turn'.
The big forward shaped as if to shoot, then suddenly dragged the ball back and swiveled into clear space, freeing him to place a shot past Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Vokes came on as a substitute to meet Chris Gunter's cross with a glancing header and spark wild celebrations in the Welsh corner of a stadium packed with Belgium fans among the crowd of nearly 46,000 people.
Wales captain Ashley Williams had hauled his team back into the game in the 30th minute when he stooped to head in a corner, after midfielder Radja Nainggolan had given Belgium the lead with a rising right-foot shot from 25 meters.
As the stadium emptied, Wales players and fans paid tribute to Iceland by copying the celebration ritual of the other feel-good story of an overachieving small nation at Euro 2016.
Bale and his teammates raised their arms and clapped slowly, exchanging salutes with thousands of fans that built to a crescendo.
Wales deservedly advances to a semifinal against Portugal next Wednesday in Lyon.
That game is sure to be billed as a clash of Real Madrid stars — Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. On this evidence, and Portugal's tired penalty shootout win over Poland on Thursday, Wales could start favorite.
Wales turned things around after seeming to be outplayed in the first half of what was almost a home game for Belgium just 10 kilometers from its border.
"It was like playing in Brussels tonight," said Wales coach Chris Coleman, who also led his side to beat Belgium in their qualifying group last year. "We feel we have got something to offer. You have got to dare to dream."
By conceding Rainggolan's spectacular strike, Wales failed to open the scoring for the first time in five games at Euro 2016.
Belgium had its chances, and forward Romelu Lukaku missed badly from close range when his team made fast starts in each half.
"For the first 20, 25 minutes we dominated Wales," Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said. "But then we dropped back and I can't explain why."
Belgium had no fewer than four clear opportunities in a hectic seventh minute. Rapid-fire shots from Yannick Carrasco, Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard were saved, blocked and deflected for a corner. When that was crossed in, Lukaku missed the ball from close range with the goal unguarded
Belgium's early fast breaks stretched the Wales defenders, who collected three yellow cards before momentum shifted in the 26th. After Aaron Ramsey got behind the Belgium back line, Courtois was forced into a diving save from Neil Taylor's sharp shot.
Soon after Williams scored, he exploited more poor marking to connect for another header that flew too high. A mostly untested Belgian defense, which did not concede a goal in its three previous games, suffered without the injured Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen, who was suspended.
Belgium is also missing its captain and first-choice central defender Vincent Kompany at the tournament.
Suspensions will now take a toll on Wales. The tireless and influential Ramsey plus defender Ben Davies were shown yellow cards Friday and will miss the semifinal.
That game against Ronaldo's Portugal will be the biggest in Welsh history. Just like the challenge to overcome No. 2-ranked Belgium.
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