Wales left with another magical moment against Belgium, but Harry Wilson’s wonderful blow proved insufficient as they fell to defeat in their first World Cup qualifying match.
Wilson completed a deft team move to gain an early lead, but the No. 1 ranked team in the world responded in style, Kevin De Bruyne fired from a distance before a Thorgan Hazard header set Belgium up for a comfortable victory. back, with Romelu Lukaku sealing the win from the penalty spot.
Wales’ finest moment came when these teams last met five years ago when Hal Robson-Kanu, then a free agent, nonchalantly put Thomas Meunier and Axel Witsel on the penalty spot before beating Thibaut Courtois to power the Chris Coleman’s team to the semi-finals of Euro 2016..
Much has changed since then, but Meunier and Courtois were among seven players from both teams who started that day in Lille for this duel across the border in Leuven.
For Wales, Gareth Bale and Joe Allen were the only survivors, but the latter was forced to withdraw with a hamstring injury in the seventh minute. So it was Bale’s turn to inspire a young Welsh team and how they performed.
Joe Morrell, who replaced Allen, stepped in to prevent Lukaku from stealing possession and found Chris Mepham, who threw the ball to Wilson midway through. Wales advanced on the right, with Bale selecting Connor Roberts in the overlay, throwing the ball his way with the outside of his left boot and three divine touches later, including another sumptuous pass from Bale, Wilson swept the ball into the corner. far away. to crown a magnificent counterattack.
The warning signs, unsurprisingly, came from de Bruyne. The Manchester City midfielder sent a cross pass into the box six yards from the right, only for Lukaku to get close, but then De Bruyne took matters into his own hands. Hazard threw the ball inside the box to De Bruyne, who prevailed with his first touch and then launched a thunderous right-footed shot into the corner with the second. Belgium began to stretch their legs and six minutes later Hazard helped Roberto Martínez’s men to take the lead.
Meunier’s hanging center headed for the back post and Roberts’ inopportune slip allowed Hazard a free header to goal, which he sent to the bottom corner.
For the fourth straight game, former Welsh defender Robert Page and Albert Stuivenberg, one of Mikel Arteta’s assistants at Arsenal, led the team in the continued absence of Giggs. At first glance, the manager, who is out on bail until May after having denied allegations of assault and actual bodily injury, seems very distant, but he continues to influence team selection and is in daily dialogue with his coaching staff.
Wales came back revitalized after the break. Bale was the ringleader and the Tottenham forward on loan from Tottenham allowed himself a wry smile after trying to equalize Wales with a kick from above.
Daniel James did excellently to keep Roberts’s center alive at the back post, hooking the ball through the goal, but Bale’s stunts were to no avail as he failed to make clean contact. Wales functioned without a striker per se: Wilson played as a false nine before being replaced by Tyler Roberts with half an hour to play. James fired a deflected shot and on the other end De Bruyne rocked the side net as Belgium looked to kill the game.
Wales gave Belgium a chance to seal the change when Mepham awkwardly flipped Dries Mertens into the box, leaving referee Cuneyt Cakir with no choice but to impose a penalty. Danny Ward failed to drive a Meunier cross to safety and Mepham panicked, swinging one leg wildly at Mertens. Lukaku sent Ward, again preferred to Wayne Hennessey in goal, the wrong way and Belgium had successfully pierced all of Wales’ initial optimism.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism