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Wales boss Chris Coleman hails skipper Ashely Williams as leader among leaders
Wales manager Chris Coleman paid tribute to skipper Ashley Williams on Friday as a leader among leaders in the Wales team dressing room.
Coleman praised the 31-year-old who will lead the side out against Belgium for their Euro 2016 on Friday night at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille.
“I’m probably old fashioned in my thinking,” said Coleman. “But you do need a leader. You need leaders. We’ve got a really good dressing room, a really good blend. And Ashley is the captain among them. Everybody looks at this campaign where we’ve been successful and we’re into the last eight at a European Championships.
“But it wasn’t always like that. We’ve had some tough times and some dark days and that’s when I’ve always judged people – not when it’s all sunshine and going well. Ashley has never ever disappointed me on or off the pitch. He’s a big credit. He’s captain of his team and country and I know he feels being captain of Wales is a big honour for him.”
Williams displayed his fighting spirit during the last 16 match against Northern Ireland at the Parc des Princes on 25 June. He injured his shoulder in a collision with team mate Jonathan Williams but insisted on carrying on until the end of the match with his side leading 1-0.
“We wanted to take him off the pitch,” said Coleman. “But there was no interest from him to come off. That’s what you want from your players. You need somebody when you’ve got a strong dressing room like we have, which has strong characters. You need somebody with a strong character to lead them and Ashley Williams has that. But as I say, I’m probably old fashioned in my thinking but how Ashley leads the group is extremely important.”
Williams, who has been with Swansea City since 2007, will win his 64th cap for his country in the match against Belgium. He says he is looking forward to the battles with fellow Premier League players Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.
“Hazard is one of the best players in the world without a shadow of a doubt,” said Williams on the eve of the clash. “He can make things happen. He has excellent balance. He scores and creates goals. We know what he can do. I’ve played against him a number of times and he always plays well. It’s the same for Lukaku.
"He knows me and I know him. He’s strong, powerful and scores goals. In the quarter-final at a tournament they’re the kind of players you expect to face. We’ll try as a team to nullify them.”
If Wales were to overturn the second ranked team in the Fifa ratings, it would be the biggest shock of the tournament. While Iceland’s last 16 victory over England was unexpected, Roy Hodgson’s men were never considered genuine title candidates. Marc Wilmots’ Belgians – after their run to the last eight of the 2014 World Cup – are among the leading contenders for the crown on 10 July.
Coleman says his men know they have the ability to win. Wales took four points off Belgium during the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016. But he has warned his squad not to rest on their laurels.
“It’s an isolated game," said the former Wales international. "One of us will exit the tournament. There are no second chances and there’s no coming away with a draw. Everything will be on Friday night and it won’t matter that we beat them this time last year in Cardiff or whether we’ve had a couple of draws. None of that matters. It’s all on the night. It’s exciting. We’ve got to show up and if we do, Belgium are in for a game.”