Round of 16 Fantasy Picks – Wales v Northern Ireland
Euro 2016 2nd round fantasy preview: Wales v Northern Ireland
Britain may have voted to leave the European Union, but Wales and Northern Ireland are still in the European Championship, with one of these sides heading through to the quarter-finals.
Wales were the surprise winners of Group B – beating another British outfit, England, into second spot – while Northern Ireland scraped into the next round as one of the best third-placed teams.
Few would have predicted Wales v Northern Ireland would be one of the knock-out games at Euro 2016 but on Saturday the two countries will go head-to-head to move into the last-eight.
To add to the very British feel of this European Championship game, even the referee will be from Britain, with English official Martin Atkinson taking the whistle for the match.
Wales will be the favourites for this game and it will be interesting to see how they cope with that tag, while Northern Ireland will be more than happy to be considered the underdogs again.
Wales v Northern Ireland head-to-head
The last time these nations met in competitive matches was in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, with Wales coming out on top in a pair of games that were highly entertaining for neutral fans.
Wales came from behind to draw 2-2 in Cardiff and the return game in Dublin was even more thrilling, with Northern Ireland battling back from 2-0 down to level the scores before Ryan Giggs came up with a winning goal.
However, despite taking four points from their two games in qualifying against Northern Ireland, it was not enough to send Wales to Germany – indeed Giggs would never play at a major international tournament for his country.
Overall, the Welsh are also unbeaten in the last eight matches they have played against Northern Ireland, including a 1-1 draw in a friendly just a couple of months before the start of Euro 2016.
Wales fantasy players to watch
There were high expectations for Gareth Bale coming into Euro 2016 but the Real Madrid star has managed to exceed his lofty billing by scoring in every game at the finals for Wales so far.
Bale, the most expensive player in football history, scored free-kicks in the first two matches of the tournament then produced a close-range finish in the 3-0 win over Russia that ensured Wales would be going through to the next round as group winners.
But if Euro 2016 has proved anything about the Welsh, it is that they are certainly not the one-man team the critics sometimes label them as, with the likes of Joe Allen and Hal Robson-Kanu having a big impact for the team too.
The contribution of Joe Ledley cannot be underestimated either. The Crystal Palace midfielder broke a bone in his leg just a few weeks before the start of the Euros but has proved his fitness and played a key role at the finals for his country.
Aside from Bale, Aaron Ramsey is the other big-name talent in the Wales squad and he has also had a fine tournament, the Arsenal midfielder often given a free role to join in with attacks. Ramsey has a goal and two assists in three games at the finals, while defender Neil Taylor chipped in with one of the goals in the key Russia victory.
Northern Ireland fantasy players to watch
The success of Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 has been built on the solidity of their defence, with Michael McGovern’s display in the 1-0 loss to Germany one of the top individual performances of the tournament so far. Indeed, the Hamilton goalkeeper’s WhoScored rating for Euro 2016 stands at 7.38, the highest in the Northern Ireland squad.
There is a lack of goals in the Northern Ireland team, which makes centre-back Gareth McAuley an appealing daily fantasy football selection. McAuley scored the opener in the 2-0 win over Ukraine and his side have only conceded two goals in three games at the finals.
In midfield, Steven Davis has not had a great Euros to date but he is capable of coming up with a goal for his side after his most prolific club season with Southampton, while Oliver Norwood’s set-pieces are also an important part of Northern Ireland’s attacking play.