Kevin De Bruyne was at his best as Belgium withstood a tough challenge from Wales to teeter on the brink of relegation in the Nations League.
De Bruyne crossed the opening goal from the edge of the penalty area and hit the post with another shot from a similar distance before turning to Michy Batshuayi to take advantage of the second from the hosts.
Belgium’s 2-0 lead in the first half was not a reflection of a flood of opportunities, and that advantage was halved when Kiefer Moore sent in a brilliant cross from Brennan Johnson.
After the video assistant referee ruled out a penalty for Belgium, with replays showing that Joe Morell cleanly sent off De Bruyne, Wales pressed for an unlikely late equalizer, but was thwarted by the hosts who could not have imagined such a tense result for a game that seemed on her. Destined to win the canter.
With Poland losing at home to the Netherlands, Wales now have to beat Poland 2-1 or better in Cardiff on Sunday to maintain their place in the Nations League.
Robert Lewandowski and his cohorts will face another tough challenge for Robert Page’s men, and while Poland may not be on the same level as this star Belgian side, Wales will be without many first-team players due to injury.
The absences of the likes of Ben Davies, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Harry Wilson were felt in Brussels, but the gritty second-half display provided enough encouragement to suggest Wales belonged at that level.
‘Boredom’ but the wonderful De Bruyne inspires Belgium
This was the ninth meeting between these teams in 10 years and the fourth in the past 18 months. It is understandable, then, that De Bruyne previously said he was “bored” of facing these opponents.
The Manchester City midfielder was a brilliant picture of indifference towards his goal, as his left-footed first shot with his left foot tricked Hennessy, who got the ball but was unable to stop it from nesting in the bottom corner.
De Bruyne could be close to being unstoppable regardless of the opponent, so it made matters worse for Wales that they were too benevolent in possession and lax in their shutdown of the Belgian maestro.
Matt Smith gave the ball away from the opening goal, while Wales’ defenders were on frightening alert when De Bruyne’s 20-yard shot left Hennessey motionless as she fired off the post.
The Wales goalkeeper had a busy first run, and had it not been for the wayward Belgian finish with several other shots flying wide, the visitors would have faced the hammer.
Stolen Wales resists
As has often been the case in recent matches, Wales was without many influential players due to injury.
The absences of Davis, Ramsey, Allen and Wilson totaled 260 caps, while captain Gareth Bale – a veteran with 106 appearances – was only on the bench.
Wales’ starting lineup was left with 364 caps, 104 of which were for Hennessy, while Belgium boasted 899 appearances.
That gap in experience – and a wider gap in quality – was starkly evident in the first half as Wales’ midfield couldn’t hold the ball or track down the opposing sprinters and their defense was scrawny.
The guests looked on alert for a crushing defeat when they were late in the break, but they started the second half with a goal and shocked Belgium with a goal from nothing.
Johnson was masterful at making it, running past the hesitant hosts’ defenses before cutting a superb floating cross to the back post, as Moore climbed over his mark to enter.
The goal revived Wales, who posed a growing threat at the break with the pace of Dan James and especially Johnson, who seemed to frighten his opponents at times.
Bale entered the final half-hour, and as the match entered its closing stages, Wales took a desperate lead as he saw Nico Williams’ shot saved by Thibaut Courtois and Chris Mepham with a header.
That late attack was in vain, leaving Wales to avenge their 2-1 defeat to Poland in June with the same score or better on Sunday to avoid relegation to the Nations League second division.
formation – composition 3-4-2-1
- 8Tillmanshas been replaced byVanakenin 76 ‘Minutes
- 11Carrascohas been replaced byMertensin 65′Minutes
- 7De Bruynehas been replaced byKetelaerein 90 + 2′Minutes
- 10Hazzardhas been replaced byTrussardin 65′Minutes
- 23Batshuayihas been replaced byAnalystsin 65′Minutes
- 22Saele makers
formation – composition 3-4-2-1
- 5mephamBooked in 49 minutes
- 17Norrington Davishas been replaced byRobertsin 84 ‘Minutes
- 15thampadooBooked in 59 minutes
- 8Smithhas been replaced byMorelin 64 ‘Minutes
- 3N Williams
- 13morhas been replaced bybalein 64 ‘MinutesBooked in 78 minutes
- 19M Harris
Match ends, Belgium 2, Wales 1.
The second half ends, Belgium 2, Wales 1.
False – Charles de Kettleri (Belgium).
Joe Morrell (Wales) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
wasted attempt. Chris Mipham (Wales) header from the left side of the penalty area close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Conor Roberts after setting set-pieces.
Error by Axel Witsel (Belgium).
Gareth Bale (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Corner, Belgium. against Chris Mepham.
Replacement, Belgium. Charles de Kettlery replaces Kevin De Bruyne.
wasted attempt. Thomas Meunier (Belgium) right-footed shot from outside the penalty area is too high. Assisted by Hans Vanaken.
Attempt is prohibited. Ethan Ampadu (Wales) is blocked with his left foot from outside the penalty area. Assisted by Daniel James.
Attempt saved. Nico Williams (Wales) a right-footed shot from outside the penalty area is saved in the middle of the goal. With the help of Gareth Bale.
wasted attempt. Dries Mertens (Belgium) right-footed shot from the left flank of the penalty area misses the right. Assisted by Hans Vanaken.
Error by Dries Mertens (Belgium).
Ethan Ampadu (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.
wasted attempt. Brennan Johnson (Wales) right-footed shot from the right side of the penalty area is close but misses on the left. Assisted by Conor Roberts with a header pass.
Toggle, Wells. Tyler Roberts replaced Reese Norrington Davis.
VAR Decision: No penalty for Belgium.
Gareth Bale (Wales) shown the yellow card.
Replacement, Belgium. Hans Vanaken replaces Yuri Tillmans.