Belgium gain revenge on Wales to make winning start to World Cup qualifying
Belgium exacted revenge on Wales for a shock exit at the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 by coming from behind to get their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign off to a winning start with a 3-1 victory on Wednesday (March 24).
Kevin de Bruyne, Thorgan Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were on target for the world No. 1 ranked side in Leuven after Harry Wilson had put the visitors in front.
Wales are again under the caretaker charge of Robert Page this month with manager Ryan Giggs on leave pending the investigation of an assault charge.
The former Manchester United star was arrested in November after a reported row with his girlfriend. Giggs denies the allegations of assault and last month had his bail extended until May 1.
Page was also in charge of wins over Ireland and Finland to secure promotion to the top tier of the Nations League in November, but Belgium’s array of stars proved a much tougher test.
Wales made the better start, though, and went ahead thanks to a brilliant team goal on 11 minutes.
Gareth Bale admitted this week that one of his major motivations for joining Tottenham Hotspur on loan for a season from Real Madrid was to get match-fit for Euro 2020.
Bale’s sharpness, thanks to much more game time over the past month, showed as he combined with Daniel James and then played in Wilson to slot confidently past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
“Obviously, it was great to get an early goal. We felt like we were set up well and our game plan was going well, but I guess a few little sloppy mistakes from ourselves let them back in,” said Bale.
“We know they’re a great team, they have great players, and when you do make mistakes, you get punished.”
De Bruyne then took centre stage as his cross should have been buried by Lukaku. The Manchester City midfielder was far more accurate on 22 minutes as he arrowed a shot in off the post from outside the box.
Wales were unfortunate for Belgium’s second six minutes later as Connor Roberts slipped, allowing Hazard a simple header from Thomas Meunier’s cross.
Chances were harder to come by for both sides after half-time, but Belgium were gifted the opportunity to secure the three points when Chris Mepham tripped Dries Mertens as the Napoli forward pounced on a loose ball inside the box.
Lukaku sent Danny Ward the wrong way from the spot to take his record tally for Belgium to 58 goals in 90 caps.
Wales have a break from competitive action on Saturday when they host Mexico in a friendly before a crucial clash against the Czech Republic next Tuesday, between what will likely be the two sides battling for second place in Group E.
The Czechs were 6-2 winners away to Estonia and face Belgium next in Prague on Saturday. – AFP