One of the reasons Wales was able to end a 58-year tournament drought and qualify for the European Championship this summer was its ability to take four of a possible six points from Belgium during qualifying. The Red Dragons scraped out a 0-0 draw on the road, and Gareth Bale pounced on a mistake by Radja Nainggolan to power them to a 1-0 victory in the return match at Cardiff City.
That win went a long way in Wales securing a runner-up spot in Group B and direct qualification into the expanded 24-team field. And the Red Dragons have shown no signs they are just happy to be here, winning their group over England and then becoming the last Home Nation standing after dispatching Northern Ireland in the round of 16 before taking delight in watching the Three Lions come up woefully short against fellow newcomer Iceland.
But Wales’ success in qualifying hid a few things. Belgium had over 60 percent possession in both matches and didn’t lack for chances _ the Red Devils racked up a 33-13 advantage in shots. In the match at Brussels, Belgium had one shot dent the post and another cleared off the line.
Still, Wales enters this match confident and with nothing to lose. While talisman and central defender Ashley Williams is an injury concern with an ailing shoulder, nine other players started in both matches against Belgium and manager Chris Coleman has a well-drilled side at his disposal.
Belgium has alternated between looking like world beaters and a team trying to find its identity _ its 4-0 demolition of Hungary is somewhat flattering as three of the goals came in the final 12 minutes plus stoppage time. There’s no shortage of talent, but this “Golden Generation” is still under pressure to produce in the clutch.
The other contest pits Portugal and Poland, which means the FanXT DFS player must once again debate the merits of selecting Cristiano Ronaldo and has expensive salary of $13,880. The Real Madrid star was anonymous for most of the match against Croatia until he conjured a bit of magic in the 117th minute and unleashed a shot that Ricardo Quaresma headed home on the rebound for the match-winner.
Otherwise, it was a very dull encounter in which Portugal’s midfield was completely neutralized by the quality of the Croats. This time around, they face a Poland defense that has conceded just one goal in four matches, but the midfield will be a far more even affair.
Poland Is trying to reach the semifinals of a major tournament for the first time since the 1982 World Cup, and that squad also had an airtight defense until running into Paolo Rossi and Italy in the semifinals. Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski has done well in his three matches deputizing for the injured Wojicech Szczesny, and if you believe the Biale Orly can contain Ronaldo and Nani, then the lineup play may be to include Fabianski and some of his back line.
But the key play here is Belgium and picking the right attacking players since almost all of them carry considerable price tags. Eden Hazard is not a bad selection, but going head-to-head with fellow superstar Gareth Bale runs the risk of a washout of players with five-digit salaries. One must dig a little deeper here to find that hidden value.
This lineup covers the June 30 and July 1 quarterfinal matches for the European Championships, using a 4-4-2 formation and $90,000 salary cap as part of FanXT’s DFS rules.
Goalkeeper: Rui Patricio, Portugal ($7,780). If one throws out the 3-3 draw against Hungary, Patricio has given up only one goal and recorded two shutouts. At the same time, the Sporting CP keeper has made only six saves thus far and did not need to make any in 120 minutes against Croatia. On paper, his match against Poland appears to be more of a toss-up than Wales versus Belgium, so selecting counterpart Lukasz Fabianski and a pair of Polish defenders would serve a FanXT player well and can be easily done if backing the Biale Orly for a spot in the semis.
Defenders: Thomas Meunier, Belgium ($7,380). Meunier is a value pick here who has the potential to get forward given the Red Devils will have the lion’s share of possession against Wales. The Club Brugge defender is fifth on the team with 10 crosses and does have an assist, so there may be offensive points to be found here.
Rapahel Guerriero, Portugal ($7,460). The Lorient wing back continues to be a low-cost pick with potential value and ranks second on Portugal with 19 crosses. He’s also one of the defenders whom manager Fernando Santos seems to trust, having returned to the lineup to face Croatia after sitting out the 3-3 draw versus Hungary to conclude group play.
Artur Jedrzecjczyk, Poland ($7,190). A pick made primarily for salary cap flexibility, Jedrzecjczyk has shown a willingness to get forward and is third on the team with 11 crosses. The Legia Warsaw back did pick up a yellow card in his last match, which makes this pick a little risky for him to give a professional foul with Portugal’s speed on the counter.
Jan Vertonghen, Belgium ($8,130). While this space is not fond of selecting expensive defenders, the Tottenham outside back is going to have his opportunities to not only get forward but also have space to deliver crosses against Wales. Vertonghen will not lack options in picking out teammates, and since the Red Devils have a pair of headers among their eight goals, this selection has the potential for assists as well as bonus clean sheet points.
Midfielders: Nani, Portugal ($8,000). You still getting a forward’s amount of chances on goal at a midfielder’s price with Nani, though he was quite pedestrian against Croatia in the round of 16. Poland doesn’t have the midfield quality Croatia does, so that means both he and Ronaldo should see more of the ball and create scoring chances for each other up front for A Seleccao.
Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium ($10,750). While Hazard is a tempting selection given the performance he had against a Hungary team that played right into Belgium’s hands, the pick here is the Manchester City winger because there is a very strong likelihood Hazard and Wales counterpart Bale will neturalize each other all match. Additionally, Hazard may not be at 100 percent physically after missing a practice during the week. That puts the onus on De Bruyne to carve out space for himself in threatening positions with the ball in the final third. He had a strong game against the Magyars with five shots on goal and an assist, so maybe his time for a goal is here
Aaron Ramsey, Wales ($8,880). The same logic that applies to selecting De Bruyne goes into selecting Ramsey here, unless you’re supremely confident in Belgium. If that’s the case, feel free to add Axel Witsel into this spot. Ramsey played in both qualifiers versus the Red Devils, he knows what they’re all about. He’s going to have to pick his spots on the counter to create offense for Wales, and the Arsenal man is a quality playmaker.
Jakub Blaszczykowski, Poland ($7,500). In four matches, the Fiorentina midfielder has matched his goal total at the Italian club over 21 matches in all competitions. He scored Poland’s goal in the round of 16 match against Switzerland and converted during the shootout to help the Biale Orly reach the quarterfinals. He has been the beneficiary of all the dirty work Grezgorz Krychowiak has been doing in Poland’s midfield, and there should be chances for him to test Portugal’s defense.
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku, Belgium ($9,190). The Everton forward played in only one of the two qualifiers against Wales, and that was a 45-minute stint in Belgium’s 1-0 road loss. Lukaku did not score in the Red Devils’ rout of Hungary, and it will be tough trying to break down the Red Dragons, who will be compact in the final third. But his physical style of play may actually be well-suited for this match and there should be scoring opportunities.
Andrew Milik, Poland ($7,630). That Poland has gotten this far with few contributions from strike partner Robert Lewandowski is a testament to Milik’s industry up front. He leads the team in shots (15), shots on goal (5) and is tied for the lead in crosses (12). The Ajax striker was also successful from the spot in the shootout victory over Switzerland and is again a good low-cost pick with potential high value.
Lineup Total Cost: $89,900 ($100 left over)
By Chris Altruda (@AlTruda73 on Twitter)