Euro 2016: Wales and Northern Ireland set for historic last-16 tie in Paris


Wales v Northern Ireland

Wales v Northern Ireland: Euro 2016 round of 16
Venue: Parc des Princes, Paris Date: Saturday, 25 June Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC 5 live sports extra and BBC Radio Wales. Plus the BBC Sport website and app

Wales and Northern Ireland are set for a historic meeting on Saturday as they each attempt to reach a first European Championship quarter-final.

The last-16 tie in Paris is the first time two home nations have met in the knockout stages of a major tournament.

Wales finished above England to win Group B, with Northern Ireland qualifying from Group C as one of the best third-placed teams.

Thousands of Wales and Northern Ireland fans are expected in Paris.

“It’s a one-off game now and we’ll go into it thinking we can get a victory,” said Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty.

Wales manager Chris Coleman said: “It will be about who handles that spotlight the best, who’s capable of performing under that pressure and tension.”

There is further home nations interest in the match as England’s Martin Atkinson will be the referee.

Wales & Northern Ireland ‘have belief to win Euro 2016’

Where Wales v Northern Ireland will be won and lost

Nations ready for the big stage

With both nations having limited tournament experience over the years, it is not surprising Saturday’s game will be their first meeting at a major finals.

There have been four World Cup or European Championship qualifiers, countless British Home Championship games and the odd friendly – but nothing matching the pressure and intensity of a knockout tie.

Wales go into the match with the historical advantage, having won 15 of their 34 previous meetings since 1953 – when Fifa ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland must compete under separate names.

Northern Ireland have not beaten Wales in eight attempts, a winless run stretching back to a 1-0 Home Championship victory in May 1980.

Head to head (since 1953)
Wales Draws Northern Ireland
15 12 7

While Michael O’Neill’s men will not dwell on results from previous generations, they do have a recent gauge of the challenge provided by their Welsh opponents.

The nations met in a pre-Euro 2016 friendly just three months ago when Wales nicked a late 1-1 draw in Cardiff.

Coleman’s injury-hit side, however, were missing star men Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, while nine of the Northern Irish team that night started Tuesday’s final Group C game against Germany.

What the Welsh camp has been saying

Wales manager Chris Coleman:

“This is tournament football. Both teams find themselves in a position where they’ve earned respect, they’ve earned the tension.

“That pressure and tension is what we’ve been screaming for for years – there’s no complaints from us. We’re just looking forward to the game.”

Wales forward Gareth Bale:

“The support from our fans is incredible – we call it the Red Wall. You know like Borussia Dortmund you see the Yellow Wall, we call it the Red Wall.

“To see the stadium it’s red, it’s like a home game. We see on the big screen fans crying and it means so much, not to just us as players but to us as a nation.

“You hear the stories coming back from home which make you smile and make you laugh and hopefully we can keep giving them more stuff to celebrate.

“I want to thank them first and foremost for keeping supporting us, they have been incredible over here.

“They have been amazingly behaved and hopefully they can continue to keep doing that and we can continue making them proud and happy.”

What the Northern Irish camp has been saying

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill:

“We don’t want this to end. The players want more.

“The prize is massive for both teams. We are playing for a place in the quarter-finals and we have to make sure it is us going through.”

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis:

“I think both sets of players will be extremely pumped up because of what’s riding on it and what’s at stake.

“There are a lot of similarities with the two teams in terms of progress over the last couple of years.

“It probably will have an edge because of what’s riding on it, both sets of fans have been magnificent and both sets of players believe we can progress.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity, and one we’re looking forward to.

“I think there’s a respect for each other as countries. There will definitely be an edge but maybe not that rivalry.”

Wales analysis – Dafydd Pritchard (BBC Wales Sport)

Wales were frustrated when they last played Northern Ireland, unable to play with any cohesion as they drew their March friendly 1-1 at the Cardiff City Stadium.

It was an example of how Chris Coleman’s men can struggle to break teams down when opponents drop deep, and Northern Ireland demonstrated against Germany how obdurate they can be as a defensive unit.

However, the big difference between the friendly and Saturday’s encounter was that Wales were without Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey in Cardiff.

The talismanic pair have played in all three of Wales’ Euro 2016 group games, with both in sparkling form as they demolished Russia so spectacularly to reach the second round.

Northern Ireland may defend deep in an attempt to negate Bale’s pace, though that could create space for Ramsey, an intelligent playmaker whose performance against Russia was perhaps his best in a Welsh shirt.

Bale expects Michael O’Neill’s side to employ a “defensive” approach and, having been a Real Madrid player for three years, he will be well accustomed to facing teams whose first aim is to shackle the opposition.

Both sides are riding a wave having reached the knockout stages of a major tournament for only the second time in their history, both backed by a loud and partisan following.

But whereas Northern Ireland lost two of their group games, Wales enter this game fresh from what was arguably their greatest performance, confident their superior firepower will be enough to overcome their dogged opponents.

Northern Ireland analysis – Lyle Jackson (BBC Sport NI)

Northern Ireland knew they would be playing hosts France or Wales at the last-16 stage.

Manager Michael O’Neill expressed a preference for the Welsh and got his wish – now his team have to deliver on the Paris pitch.

They believe they have a decent chance in a match which they expect to be more like a Premier League or Championship fixture, rather than a continental style game. The match has an English referee in Martin Atkinson.

Another solid defensive display will be required and Gareth Bale will somehow have to be shackled.

Cutting the supply to the Real Madrid star is seen as a crucial ploy which will require a team effort.

Manager O’Neill may be more adventurous in his selection and team formation.

NI believe the Welsh may be suspect at the back, so there is a case for striker Kyle Lafferty being recalled to the starting 11.

The back four of Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Craig Cathcart and Jonny Evans should be retained.

In midfield, the big-game experience of skipper Steven Davis will be crucial for Northern Ireland, while the likes of Stuart Dallas and Oliver Norwood have certainly not looked out of place at the tournament.

Who will be the key men?

Gareth Bale is undoubtedly Wales’ star player – and the world’s most expensive player has been integral to their progression into the last 16.

The Real Madrid forward, 26, scored in each of the three group games, becoming only the seventh player to achieve this feat in the European Championship finals.

But Bale will have to find a way past Northern Ireland keeper Michael McGovern, who has also been in inspired form during the tournament.

The 31-year-old, who is currently without a club, made eight saves in the 1-0 defeat by Germany, enabling his team to progress to the last 16 on goal difference.

The full last-16 draw

(All times BST)

Switzerland v Poland – Saturday 14:00, BBC

Wales v Northern Ireland – Saturday, 17:00, BBC

Croatia v Portugal – Saturday, 20:00, ITV

France v Republic of Ireland – Sunday, 14:00, ITV

Germany v Slovakia – Sunday, 17:00, ITV

Hungary v Belgium – Sunday, 20:00, BBC

Italy v Spain – Monday, 17:00, BBC

England v Iceland – Monday, 20:00, ITV

[Source  BBC]