Gareth Bale’s Wales Face Off vs Fellow Debutants Northern Ireland

Wales take on Northern Ireland in the round of 16 match in Euro 2016 on Saturday.

Published25 Jun 2016, 05:37 AM IST
Sports
2 min read

The world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale of Wales, will face an ageing goalkeeper looking for a club in Saturday’s intriguing all-British showdown against fellow debutants Northern Ireland for a place in the quarter-final of Euro 2016.

Bale, who has scored a goal in each of Wales’ games so far to help his team top their group ahead of England, was expected to shine on the pitches of France.

It is a different story for Michael McGovern, whose heroics in the Northern Ireland goal have earned him a comparison to the great Pat Jennings by coach Martin O’Neill.

While Bale, 26, features prominently in the star-studded Real Madrid outfit, the 31-year-old McGovern is a free agent whose contract with struggling Scottish side Hamilton Academical has just expired.

The two now hold the key to Saturday’s battle of the European championship first-timers at Parc des Princes, which Wales will start with an advantage after their convincing displays in the group stages showcased Bale’s pace, skills and set-piece expertise.

Northern Ireland, making their first appearance at a major tournament since the 1982 World Cup, advanced as one of the best third-placed teams, taking full advantage of the expanded 24-team format which helped the less-fancied sides win a moment in the sun.

Northern Ireland’s Steven Davis applauds at the end of their match against Germany. (Photo: AP)
Northern Ireland’s Steven Davis applauds at the end of their match against Germany. (Photo: AP)

They enjoyed that moment, showing plenty of fighting spirit, helped by a string of fine saves from McGovern, who was instrumental in limiting the damage in a 1-0 defeat by world champions Germany.

A few people didn’t give us a chance of getting a point when the draw was made,” said defender Gareth McAuley. But that’s what Northern Ireland are all about - proving people wrong.
Gareth McAuley, Player, Northern Ireland

It cannot be argued that Wales are not highly dependent on Bale, the world record 85 million pounds ($121.21 million) forward having scored seven of their 11 goals in qualifying before hitting three more in the opening phase of the tournament to top the scorers’ table alongside Spain’s Alvaro Morata.

At times, Bale has won games extraordinarily, I can understand the one-man team tag if you have a player like him who plays for Real Madrid. He fits our style of play and he enjoys it.
Chris Coleman, Coach, Wales

Wales are likely to take the initiative in Saturday’s game with Northern Ireland shutting up shop at the back to rely on their trademark, counter-attacking tactics.

The winners will go on to meet Hungary or Belgium in Lille.

Whatever happens on Saturday, both teams know they can rely on some of the most passionate fans in the tournament and there should be plenty of colour and noise in the Parc des Princes stands.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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