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Wales proved they're more than Gareth Bale against Belgium

The Dragons are off to the Euro 2016 semifinals, and they’re doing it together.

Wales v Belgium - Quarter Final: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Wales just beat a favorite, 3-1, to get to the Euro semifinals, and they did it without a Gareth Bale goal. Belgium has elite players, but they had no answers for Chris Coleman's side. The fact of the matter is that Wales is a complete team, and they could go all the way to the final.

You wouldn’t be wrong to think that Wales was a minnow being carried by a global superstar. From the outside looking in, it would appear that Wales was all about Bale’s brilliance and 10 other guys trying to hold it together. Bale has either scored or assisted in 13 of Wales’s 21 goals in qualifying and in the final tournament. When you’re the world’s most expensive player playing for the world’s richest team, you naturally hold the spotlight.

But that’s not what Chris Coleman’s side has ever been about. Yes, the ideal objective is to defend cohesively to break on the counterattack, and then create space for Bale. That’s not what transpired against Belgium in the quarterfinals.

Bale had a very good game on Friday, receiving the ball in space and going at Belgium’s weakened defense, but it was the pieces surrounding him that changed the game. Ashley Williams played with one arm at the end of the first knockout match against Northern Ireland, but that didn’t deter him from going the full 90 against Belgium. The captain marshaled the back line and made Belgium’s vaunted attack look weak. The Swansea center back made seven clearances and three tackles while completing 85 percent of his passes. A lot of pressure rests on the shoulders of the central member of a back three, and Williams has been phenomenal for the entire tournament.

Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey has reminded everyone why he’s a key midfield piece for Arsenal. He dominated the center of the park against Northern Ireland, and showed the exact same form against Belgium. Marc Wilmots’ side gave Wales too much space to play, and Ramsey happily ran through it over and over again. He completed 86 percent of his passes, created six chances, and notched two assists, including a set piece delivery. He was Wales’s best attacking player for either team by a country mile.

Hal Robson-Kanu is literally a man without a club. Even within his national side, he’s a man without a position, being a winger asked to move centrally. His naturally wide instincts repeatedly dragged Belgium’s defenders out of shape, however, leaving space for Ramsey et. al. to wreak havoc. His goal in the 55th minute was pretty delicious, too.

Then there is, of course, Liverpool’s Joe Allen, aka Welsh Pirlo. The diminutive midfielder may not pop on a stat sheet, but he was literally everywhere on the pitch. He prevented players like Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard from getting into a rhythm. Clogging up passing lanes is not a measurable stat yet, but Allen did it. He’s been in the shop window all tournament, and has lived up to it.

We don’t have time to call out the defensive contributions of lesser lights like Neil Taylor, Ben Davies, Chris Gunter and James Chester, but the fact remains that Wales is as cohesive and organized a team as there is left in the Euros. It’s incredibly important to put the spotlight on people other than Bale, because, for the first time this tournament, Wales won a game without Bale scoring or assisting once. Bale only created one chance against Belgium. If Wales can do that against the best team they’ve yet faced in this tournament, the mind boggles at what they could do against Portugal on Wednesday.

The Dragons’ fairy tale continues, and while it should have been apparent from the outset, their defeat of Belgium only proves that they are more than the sum their parts. Bale vs. Ronaldo will be a delicious fixture, and even even if the Real Madrid stars don’t play too big a part, Wales’s role players will be more than willing to step up.