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Bale, Wales Progress To Quarter-finals

Wales squeak through past Northern Ireland

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Well, that was a bit of a humdrum, wasn't it? It was a weird match where Northen Ireland - set up admirably from a tactical perspective - played a very Walesish match, keeping their defensive channels compact and preventing Chris Coleman's squad from playing their preferred counter attacking scheme which enables Bales to run at defenders in a terrifying way.

Wales are the more talented squad, possess more game-altering ability, and could get into better positions offensively. But they were also outworked for large stretches of this match, pinned back to open the 2nd half against an Irish blueprint that didn't surrender its shape, and had difficulty finding space to break down Michael O'Neill's men. It was a rare example of a team trumping another with their talent despite being out-coached.

Gareth Bale the difference maker, again

Of course, it was Gareth Bale - one of the players of the tournament thus far - again, who willed this Welsh team to the quarter finals. It was far from his best outing in this tournament, but it was also clear he was the one who would eventually break down O'Neill's barricade. He was active, made runs, whipped in crosses from tight spaces, stroked fear with a free-kick, and eventually forced an own goal from a one-time cross from the left side.

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Via FourFourTwo StatsZone. If you didn't register it in the eye test, the statistics may surprise you. Bale misplaced 13 of his 32 passes, but a lot of that will come down to playing against a team which did a phenomenal job to close them down. There are other things to consider - Bale for large stretches of this match, didn't seem to trust his teammates much, opting to hold onto the ball longer than normal while trying to create chances on his own. Also of note, the passing outlets weren't great from Wales today.

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