Wales are producing some fantastic football at the moment and are on their way to making history. Already they are the best Welsh team in living memory and on Wednesday they will head to Lyon to take on Portugal with a very realistic chance of making it to the final. Belgium head home from the second major tournament in a row after the quarter finals and questions will certainly be asked about the success of their 'golden generation'. Here are the 5 Things We Learnt:
1. Bale is the leader his country deserves
There is no doubt that Gareth Bale is a very good player, but at this tournament something else has given me a huge amount of respect for him, and that is his leadership. His desire to lead Wales to glory is clear, his pride in his team and his team mates and his country is on display and he plays like the country depends on him. He covered the entire pitch against Belgium, was influential in attack, and you can tell he is loved by his colleagues. He ditched the heart celebration for a team celebration, stood loud and proud behind his captain Ashley Williams rather than challenging his leadership and provided a beacon with his talent that the other players can aspire to. Bale is not the leader that Ronaldo or Zlatan are: his humility and love for his country, along with his general modesty, mean he is a lovable player and he will be an idol alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs and Gary Speed by the end of the tournament. He plays with his fellow countrymen, they don't play for him in any sense other than wanting to provide the best player in the country with the supporting cast he needs. Wales are a team and Bale is the leader of the pack, rather than a lone wolf wishing the others would be as good as him. He's a credit to his country.
2. Wales need to stop being seen as underdogs
Nobody calls Uruguay underdogs despite their tiny population, because they produce world class footballers and a world class team. Wales need to be given a little more respect by pundits and journalists because this is a world class team. Traditionally Wales is a rugby country and throughout history the Welsh have not been that great at the round ball sport. But this current generation of players are, as a unit, world class. Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are the stars, but Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Joe Ledley and Ben Davies play regularly at the highest level. They might not all be household names, but was Diego Godin really a household name before Atletico Madrid reached the heights they are at today? Wales have earned their place in the semi-finals and have been one of the best teams at the tournament, both to watch and in terms of results. Give them some respect and recognise that they are a well managed, talented and very competitive group of players. They should be the favourites against Portugal.
3. Belgium are doing an England
The Belgians exited Euro 2016 in much the same way they exited the 2014 World Cup: with barely a whimper at the quarter final stage when they really had so much left to offer. With such a talented squad, dubbed the golden generation, they should have been in with a very good chance of winning both tournaments but instead played sloppy, slow-tempo football which didn't suit the players available to them and slumped to a crushing defeat to Wales. Are we seeing any similarities? The golden generation of English football followed much the same route, where talented players with huge potentials failed to take the chances offered to them and wasted their tournament opportunities. Belgium will be left counting the cost of their injuries, but they can't blame losing captain Vincent Kompany, centre back Jan Vertonghen or left back Thomas Vermaelen for their inability to score goals (although they certainly wouldn't have conceded three last night). The responsibility has to lie with players like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne, who all had average tournaments and let their side down. If they aren't careful they will end up like England's golden generation: with nothing to show for all the talent.
4. Big name bias still exists in refereeing
Wales will be without two of their best players in the semi-final after Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies picked up bookings against Belgium which will see them suspended. I was surprised by some of the bookings handed out yesterday, but the trend of giving bookings to unknown players when a better known player would receive just a ticking off was notable. In the first half Eden Hazard deliberately handled the ball to give himself a free kick after going down softly and then kicked the ball away in disgust, a clear sign of dissent. He received a ticking off, much to the fury of Welsh captain Williams, who just moments before had seen Davies booked for the slightest of trips in midfield. The decisions were not incorrect, but the application of the law seemed less than even in my opinion, although generally I think refereeing at this tournament has been superb. It is a shame Wales will be competing without their best team in the semi-final because of a few strict decisions but that is a disadvantage they will have to deal with.
5. Reading FC are the greatest team in the world
Ok this is purely ego stroking, but my team (Reading FC, the mighty Royals) provided two goals for Wales last night in the form of a Chris Gunter cross for the third goal and a Hal Robson-Kanu swivel and finish for the second. Despite Robson-Kanu now having left Reading he came through the academy system there and has now turned down a new contract in the hope of a better deal elsewhere. Gunter must be catching the eyes of clubs further up the food chain after the incredible stats about his work rate came out recently: yesterday was his 65th game of the season and he has not missed a single minute for Wales through qualifying and during the tournament. That is simply incredible and Reading fans are very keen to keep him going into the new season. On the other side of the draw, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Iceland will be hoping to upset France, another academy product doing well for his country. In the mourning process after our long-time academy director Eamonn Dolan recently passed away at just 48, there would be no greater tribute to him than the players he brought through representing their countries at the highest level of international competition. RIP Eamonn.
This is where it all begins. Our resident analysts study the unrecognised players and examine the matches that are of interest across Europe.