So, Euro 2016 gives us another Home Nation showdown with group toppers Wales playing against 3rd placed Northern Ireland. Both of these teams will be elated that they have reached the knockout stage and without disrespecting either team, will see any remaining games that they get to play in the competition as a bonus. With that in mind, they will still want to beat there (for the moment) fellow UK counterparts and claim the bragging rights for years to come. To think that Wales and Northern Ireland have the opportunity to be in the quarter-finals of a major international tournament is brilliant.
Wales almost cruised to this stage of the tournament with a decent record in the group stages. They managed to pick up 2 victories with a very impressive 3-0 drubbing of Russia in the final game to pip England to top spot in Group B. They did lose to their bitter rivals at the death but instead of letting that influence them, they went out and played extremely well in the next game against the Russians. Star Man Gareth Bale is bang in form and currently in line for the Golden Boot so Welsh fans have a lot to cheer for. Neutrals will be expecting Wales to win this one especially if Bale brings his shooting boots again and Ramsey leads in the midfield.
Northern Ireland on the other hand could probably consider themselves slightly lucky to be here however, it was because of an impressive 2-0 win over Ukraine that nobody expected. I don't mean to downplay their achievements as they have done fantastically well and their defence especially have been magnificent only conceding 2 goals in 3 games against Poland, Ukraine and world champions Germany. Michael O'Neill knows what his team are good at and has a great rapport with the players. One thing is for certain, if both teams go for this and play at a Premier League pace, we're sure to be in for another cracking game of football.
So who do I think will go through to the quarter finals? What I will say is that it will not be a foregone conclusion but I think Wales may just have enough to edge it.
I think Wales have just enough quality to win this one and if that doesn't work, they have Gareth Bale. Lets not beat around the bush here, whether Welsh fans like it or not, Gareth Bale will be instrumental in their progress in this competition and he already has been. Northern Ireland have been brilliant from a defensive point of view and that's why I think the difference here will only be by 1 goal but Wales should win.
This may seem harsh calling it an outside punt but Wales will be the favourites to win this game hands down. Therefore it is an outside punt for Northern Ireland to beat them over 90 minutes, if Northern Ireland do the implausible which they already have this tournament, then I fancy a penalties win or in extra time.
Like I said earlier, I think there will only be a 1 goal deficit between these 2 teams but because it is 2 home nations against each other I can imagine it being a 1-1 draw at some point with Wales winning it eventually. I was very tempted by 1-0 Wales due to Northern Ireland's brilliant defensive efforts but I'm going for 2-1 Wales.
I can see Wales ending the half 1-0 up and then a resurgent Northern Ireland making the 2nd half very interesting indeed but ultimately Wales should win the tie and go through to the quarter finals which for Welsh football would be amazing.
I just can't look past this guy to score the first goal, I know it's a very obvious tip but he has the most goals in the competition, he has scored the first goal in their first 2 games and got a goal and an assist in the Russia game, he is on fire! He also takes all of the set pieces so there are just too many opportunities for this guy to score. If you don't want the obvious choice then I would go for either Aaron Ramsey on the Welsh side or Steven Davis for Northern Ireland.
We all know about how gifted Gareth Bale is at free kicks and what looks like a hidden rule that goalkeepers aren't allowed to save them, but Northern Ireland also have a few specialist free kick takers. We've seen a few free kicks fly in this tournament and a few very close calls. It would not surprise me if a free kick settled this contest.