There’s a case to be made that, even though they lost one of their games, Wales have been the team of Euro 2016 so far.
No rival nation has won more matches than the two Chris Coleman’s men have posted, nor have they scored more goals than their six.
They’ve tested the keeper with 57.9% of their shots, another tournament high, and they boast the competition’s joint-top leading scorer in Gareth Bale.
Croatia aside, there aren’t many nations who could feasibly contest the claim, but Northern Ireland surely aren’t far off the pace.
Their attacking output isn’t as impressive as their British brethren’s, while their mini league points tally is significantly lower too, but in terms of resources available to Michael O’Neill (or lack thereof) to advance as far as they have is an achievement that deserves the highest commendation.
They have just four players who frequently turn out in one of Europe’s elite leagues in their squad, yet were able to avoid poundings from star-studded Poland and Germany either side of their 2-0 win over Ukraine in the group stage.
By contrast, Wales’ starting XI against Russia contained eight individuals who started 2015/16 with Premier League clubs, plus two-time Champions League winner Bale.
While the Dragons have undoubtedly overachieved in reaching this stage, their exploits are enormously undermined by the efforts of the men residing on the west side of the Irish Sea, who’ll prove they’re the underdog kingpins in this last-16 clash.
Win, Lose or Draw?
A Simon Church penalty in the 89th-minute salvaged a 1-1 draw for Wales when the sides met in a March friendly.
The Aberdeen striker’s spot kick was one of a mere three goals Northern Ireland have leaked in eight outings.
Their clean sheet-keeping system may not have been strong enough to stymie Poland or Germany, but it did keep their main goal threats at bay.
None of Die Mannschaft’s World Cup winners could breach Michael McGovern’s goal, while the White Eagles’ talisman Robert Lewandowski also drew a blank against Norn Iron.
The Poles’ modus operandi is devised to give their one world-class asset the best chance of inflicting damage, very much the same principle upon which Wales’ strategy is founded.
Having stifled a similar strategy once already, Northern Ireland will be confident of shutting down Euros top scorer Bale in Paris.
If they achieve this aim, they’ll have an exceptional chance of advancing, as one goal may well be enough to win the match.
Russia and Andorra are the only nations Wales have stopped scoring in nine games, with four of these foes notching multiple goals across this period.
The Dragons may have the more potent attack, but they can’t depend on their defence like the Northern Irish, who look good value here.
Recommended bet: Northern Ireland win to nil @ 19/4
In a tournament riddled with low-scoring games, the bookies can’t be blamed for anticipating teams’ caution rising in tandem with the stakes.
They go an impossibly short 21/50 about this one containing fewer than three strikes and they’re probably right to do so.
The last-ditch Church penalty prevented their most recent meeting falling short of the two-goal threshold and the precedents set in Northern Ireland’s games against Poland and Germany promise another cagey contest.
Recommended bet: Under 1.5 goals @ 13/10
Who’s Going To Score?
A third of Norn Iron’s previous nine strikes were registered by centre-backs.
No team in the tournament can match their 42.7% corners-to-goals conversion rate and given their lack of attacking talent, set plays present their greatest chance to notch here.
Gareth McAuley rates as an 11/1 shot to bag at any time, but Craig Cathcart, scorer of two of the three goals previously mentioned, including one against Wales in their most recent renewal, pays at a far bigger price.
Recommended bet: Cathcart to score at any time @ 16/1
Wales have shipped ten goals across their last seven matches, eight of which came after the interval.
Both of Northern Ireland’s goals in the competition so far have come beyond the break and if they are to get a third, it looks likely it’ll be in the second 45.
Recommended bet: Northern Ireland to score more goals in the second half @ 11/5