Three things to expect from Wales v Northern Ireland
It’s Home Nations battle Mk.II for Wales, and having already bounced back from defeat to England in Group B, they’re favourites to defeat Northern Ireland, who have surprised many by reaching this point.
However, both boast robust defences, attacking threat and set-piece prowess. So, what should we expect in this one? And which Home Nation will be home by Sunday night, while the other continues their incredible French adventure?
Wales will win the set-piece war
There’s no denying that Northern Ireland boast more aerial threat than many sides at Euro 2016, and Gareth McAuley proved that against Ukraine – but it seems that Michael O’Neill’s men will have met their match here.
Not only do Wales possess one of the most organised and imposing defences on the continent, they also have the free-kick wizardry of Gareth Bale at the other end – with the Real Madrid man having already netted twice from dead-ball situations in France.
So it’s unlikely that any of Norn Iron’s usual target men possess the presence and wiliness to beat Ashley Williams or Ben Davies in the air, but at the other end, there’s no strategy which can stop a sweetly-hit Bale free-kick. That’s especially true with the solid but unspectacular Michael McGovern between the posts for the men in Green and White.
Both sides will have to adapt their gameplan
It was business as usual for both of these two in the group, with the Dragons and Norn Iron each happy to play their traditional low-possession, counter-attacking style.
Both of these sides had below 50 per cent possession in every group game, so who will be more comfortable on the ball here? The answer appears to be Wales, who managed just over 42 per cent possession, while Northern Ireland had the ball for just 32 per cent of the time during the group stages.
Bale and Ramsey are certainly players with a lot of confidence in retaining the ball and taking men on, while Northern Ireland have plenty of solid, tidy passing players, but lack the composure and skill on the ball which Wales’ top men have. Expect Chris Coleman’s boys to use their possession more wisely than their opposition here.
It’s going to be low-scoring
There’s a good chance that one goal could win it here. None of Northern Ireland’s last six games have seen both sides score, while Wales’ stingy defence shipped just four goals during qualifying.
And with both sides more confident playing on the counter-attack against more attacking sides, we’re likely to see both Bale and Norn Iron’s Kyle Lafferty frustrated by the lack of that open space both utilise when hitting sides on the break.
With all that in mind, one goal should be enough to win this. Chances are Wales will get the crucial one, and they look the best selection in the match betting at 21/20 to win, with 21/10 for a draw and 4/1 for a Northern Ireland win.
Gareth Bale to score a direct free-kick – 7/1
Wales to win by one goal – 9/4
Wales to win to nil – 13/8
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.