Euro 2016: Wales vs Northern Ireland - 5 players to watch out for
This round-of-16 clash pits Wales against underdogs Northern Ireland in an all-British clash in Paris.
Even as the world debates the pros and cons of United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union, the focus gradually shifts back to the football scheme of things in France, with the Euro 2016 round-of-16 fixtures set to take centre stage. Wales and Northern Ireland are set to go head-to-head at Paris’ Parc de Princes in another ‘Battle of the Brits’, but this time, there’s more than just bragging rights at stake with both teams searching for a first ever quarterfinals berth.
Chris Coleman’s Wales side surprised one and all (and I am sure even themselves!) as a failed gamble from Roy Hodgson followed by their utter demolition of Russia in Toulouse ensured the Red Dragons progress into the next round as the Group B winners ahead of England.
Northern Ireland, on the other hand, were expected to be on their way back home already but instead head to the French capital as one of the best third-placed teams despite Michael O’Neill’s side having been narrowly pipped to the automatic spots by Germany and Poland.
Surprising as it may sound, both teams may very well proceed all the way if they can overcome their British rivals since they happen to find themselves on the favourable side of the draw.
However, this is the stage where individuals crack as the pressure of a knockout game coupled with the expectancy mounts. In such a case, here are 5 players whose performances may very well determine the outcome of the game:
1) Gareth Bale
Well, the most obvious candidate, wasn’t it? The Real Madrid superstar signifies what Wales football is all about, the catalyst to every move. His tireless efforts, scoring 7 and creating another two, dragging Wales over the qualifying line to their first every major tournament in almost 60 years have already firmly cemented Gareth Bale’s name in Welsh football folklore.
Following a late upsurge in his form at Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane, Bale has gone from strength to strength and carried his qualifiers’ form into the main event in France. With 3 goals from 3 matches, Bale has once again been instrumental to Wales’ fortunes. Whenever matches have threatened to spiral towards a lull, a certain Gareth Bale has always stepped up, stamping his authority on the game with as many as two of his three goals coming from dead-ball situations.
Russia just simply couldn’t contain a rampaging Bale, unsure of whether to force him out wide or crowd him out. Any option they opted for, simply created space for the others to dictate play. Failure to do the same could prove fatal and this might well be a massive conundrum for Martin O’Neill.