Swarms of Belgian fans made the short trip across the border into France on Friday ahead of their side’s Euro 2016 quarter-final against Gareth Bale’s Wales in Lille. Barely 12,000 Belgian fans and a similar number of Wales supporters have tickets for the game at the 50,000-capacity Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille where the two will decide who plays Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in a semi-final next Wednesday.
But the Belgian Football Federation said more than 100,000 supporters were expected to make the short drive to the northern French city, situated just 17 kilometres (10 miles) across the frontier. “I am one of the lucky ones, I have a ticket!” one Belgian fan, who had travelled from Antwerp by car and then train, told AFP as he made his way to Lille Flanders station to catch the metro to the ground.
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The centre of Lille was a sea of fans clad in the red, yellow and black of Belgium. Wales fans were also present by the central Grand Place, albeit enormously outnumbered. “We knew there would be a lot of Belgians, but not as many as this,” said James, who had come from Swansea for the match. “But we are all drinking beer together and having a good time, that’s the main thing.” Supporters from both sides mixed in a friendly atmosphere, kicking footballs around, dancing the conga and singing.
Belgians everywhere joined the Welsh in singing “Don’t Take Me Home”, the ditty started by Wales fans that has effectively become one of the unofficial anthems for all supporters at the competition. “It will almost be a home game for us and that is an extra motivation,” Belgium captain Eden Hazard, who spent seven years at Lille before moving to Chelsea in 2012, said on the eve of the match. Bale is leading Wales into their best international campaign since they reached the 1958 World Cup quarter-final.
“I think it is fair to say it could be the biggest ever game for Wales, especially during my time and recent times,” the Real Madrid star declared ahead of the game starting at 1900 GMT.