- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

LILLE, France (AP) - The last time the spotlight was on Wales in the way it is now at the European Championship, a 17-year-old Pele scored the only goal for Brazil in a World Cup quarterfinal.

On Friday, Wales can go one stage further than it did in 1958 - the last time it made the finals of a major tournament - when it takes on Belgium for a place in the semifinals of Euro 2016.

“You have to put this down as the biggest game our country has ever been involved in (since),” Wales coach Chris Coleman said on Thursday. “That’s a big deal.”

It is a new kind of pressure on a team UEFA has dubbed one of its two “Cinderella stories” - along with Iceland - at Euro 2016.

“It’s a fantastic pressure to have, a real positive pressure that we’ve earned,” said Coleman

Coleman added that it was “a great place to be. It hasn’t always been like that, it’s been tough.”

When Coleman took charge in 2012, Wales was ranked outside the top 100 by FIFA and in a downward spiral of low seeding and tough draws while trying to qualify for tournaments.

“We have experienced the other pressure which is tough, a lot tougher than this one we have got, I can promise you that,” the former Wales defender said.

Coleman said a crucial point in the turnaround was when Wales drew 1-1 against World Cup-bound Belgium in October 2013.

The two teams were again grouped in qualifying for Euro 2016 and Wales more than held its own: A 0-0 draw in Brussels and a 1-0 win in Cardiff, clinched by Gareth Bale’s goal.

Coleman cautioned against seeking form lines from games played more than a year ago.

“Whatever we know about Belgium, the games we have had in the past will count for nothing,” he said.

What could count is the fitness of key defenders on either side.

Belgium will be without left back Jan Vertonghen, who will miss the rest of the tournament after twisting his ankle in training

“He’s an outstanding performer so if he misses the game it’s a big loss for Belgium,” Coleman said before confirmation of the scale of the injury.

Belgium will also be without center back Thomas Vermaelen, who is serving a one-match ban.

By contrast, Wales has been boosted by captain Ashley Williams recovering from a left shoulder injury. The 31-year-old center back collided with a teammate in the 1-0 over Northern Ireland in the round of 16 last Saturday.

“It’s obviously great news for us, positive news that he’s going to be available,” Coleman said of Williams. “He has never, ever disappointed me, on or off the pitch.”

Belgium comes into the match in form, following its 4-0 drubbing of Hungary in the round of 16. It also has the potential advantage of playing what is almost a home match. Lille is just 10 kilometers away from the Belgian border.

Coleman noted that while Belgium “play with imagination, they have got pace and power,” his own team, with a defense-minded reputation, has scored just one goal fewer.

“When it is time to defend, we will defend with our lives,” the Wales coach said. “And when it is time to attack, we will attack with our lives. If we do that, Belgium will be in for a hell of a game.”

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