Belfast Telegraph

Belgium v Wales: Gareth Bale says team has improved since qualifying win over Belgian side

Gareth Bale heads into what he says is Wales' biggest game in more than 50 years believing that Chris Coleman's side are better than the one which beat Belgium 12 months ago.

Wales play Belgium in Lille on Friday night with a place in the last four of Euro 2016 at stake, and victory would see them eclipse the achievement of the side which reached the quarter-final of the 1958 World Cup before losing to Brazil.

Star-studded Belgium will start as clear favourites to reach the semi-finals, but Wales beat them 1-0 in Euro qualifying - with Bale scoring the winner - in Cardiff last June.

"Belgium were ranked number two in the world at the time," said Bale.

"To know we can beat the big teams, it does give you that extra bit of confidence and it does take you to the next level.

"From that night, from beating Belgium, we have gone up to another level.

"We've taken our game on with playing more games in our system, gelling even more.

"It was a changing moment for us."

Belgium are still ranked second in the world and were impressive when securing their quarter-final spot with a 4-0 victory over Hungary.

But Wales have impressed against continental opposition at this tournament, beating Slovakia and Russia 2-1 and 3-0 respectively, and Bale says they will be ready for Belgium on a night he compares with the one in Sweden 58 years ago.

"We know about the quarter-final in the World Cup in '58, so since then it's obviously the biggest game in Welsh football for sure," said Bale.

"We have our own game plan and identity and we don't need any extra motivation.

"Belgium see every team they play as a stepping stone to the final.

"That's not disrespectful, that's their opinion, and we're happy about that.

"We've beaten them before so it can be done again.

"We're the only home nation left in the competition which is an amazing achievement in itself.

"It's our time to shine and we're very proud to fly the flag of Wales."

Skipper Ashley Williams is expected to play in Lille after injuring his shoulder in the last-16 victory over Northern Ireland on Saturday.

Bale described Williams as Wales' "rock" and confirmed that the centre-back had trained with the rest of the squad on Wednesday morning.

The Real Madrid forward also revealed he had no made plans until after the July 10 final, in contrast to Chris Gunter who would miss his brother's wedding if Wales beat Belgium and Neil Taylor who has had to give up Beyonce concert tickets.

"I planned everything for after the final - I was the clever one in the group," laughed Bale.

"We're just enjoying the whole experience and the fact we enjoy each other's company does help in the downtime where perhaps other teams are bored.

"With our team spirit, it's like being with your mates all the time.

"It's like being on holiday, we're doing quizzes, playing table tennis, watching games, having a round of golf.

"It's very demanding to be in a long tournament, but we're enjoying every moment and we're happy to be here.

"The Northern Ireland game was a very ugly one that was not suited to us.

"But to win a game like that shows the team spirit and character we've got."

Belfast Telegraph Digital