Belgium banking on 'home' advantage in Lille
LILLE, France (Reuters) - Belgium coach Marc Wilmots and captain Eden Hazard are counting on home advantage when they meet Wales in Lille for their Euro 2016 quarter-final on Friday.
Belgium thumped Hungary 4-0 in the last 16 in Toulouse and are rewarded with a trip to Lille's Stade Pierre-Mauroy, only 100 kilometres from the Belgian border.
The city has already received an influx of Belgium fans ahead of the match, with many more expected over the next 24 hours.
"We're so close to the border, there will be many Belgian supporters there," Wilmots told UEFA. "We will be well supported in the city and in the stadium, these are enjoyable times."
The coach is also hoping that the "home" advantage will help Belgium through a tricky few days following the news on Thursday that influential defender Jan Vertonghen has been ruled out of the tournament with an ankle ligament injury.
"We have a team with a few worries," Wilmots added. "So it's good to have a 12th man.
"We know they'll be here and in the city," he added. "They're here to see a beautiful event, to see Belgium reach the semis.
"We know we are supported, and even though we've had some heavy blows, it's up to us, our weapons and our values."
Lille holds a special significance for captain Hazard, who made his name at LOSC Lille after moving to the club as a teenager, winning the Ligue 1 title in 2011 before moving to Chelsea in 2012.
"I'm delighted to be back," he told reporters. "I learnt a lot at Lille, the job of footballer, that's where it all began."
Hazard has established himself as one of the leading players at Euro 2016, contributing three assists and scoring a magnificent solo goal against Hungary.
Having overcome an injury sustained in his last match, he appears primed to make a big impact as Belgium aim to reach their first major semi-final since 1986.
"I arrived at 14, played seven big seasons, won the title, learnt consistency, how to play at the top level and played in the Champions League," Hazard said.
"It will be the first time in this stadium (at the new Stade Pierre-Mauroy)," he added. "But I hope I will have the same kind of memories as I enjoyed at the other ground."
(Reporting by Ed Dove, editing by Ed Osmond)