Battling Wales hold Belgium

Date published: Thursday 1st January 1970 12:00

Battling Wales hold Belgium

Chris Coleman’s side briefly kept their place at the top of the qualifying group after stifling the threat of Eden Hazard and co with a spirited performance, but Israel later moved to the summit with a 3-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Wales could have taken all three points, with Gareth Bale a constant menace on the counter-attack, but Coleman will be thrilled to return home with a draw as they absorbed mounting pressure from the Belgians late on.
The visitors were even indebted to Bale at the other end in stoppage time as he cleared Belgium substitute Christian Benteke’s header off the line with the assistance of keeper Wayne Hennessey.
Nicolas Lombaerts struck a post for Belgium in the first half but Wales refused to yield and they held on for a point which will strengthen their growing conviction that they can qualify for the finals in France.
After being forced to soak up pressure for large periods, Coleman’s side did break out to create the odd chance.
Bale twice forced saves from Thibaut Courtois in the Belgian goal with swerving free-kicks, while the Real Madrid forward went close with a second-half shot after powering past two home defenders.
Hazard clearly had a licence to drift when Belgium attacked but twice the hosts were let down by poor Nacer Chadli crosses.
Wales were looking to launch swift counter-attacks, with Bale operating in the centre-forward role, and he was only denied from one such opportunity by a last-ditch Jan Vertonghen tackle.
Bale had another sight of goal after 14 minutes when Lombaerts fouled Ramsey to concede a free-kick 25 yards out, Courtois just about pushing the ball to safety.
In what was proving an open affair, Belgium went straight on the attack and Hazard’s mazy run took him into the Welsh penalty area where his low shot was held at the second attempt by Hennessey in the Wales goal.
Hennessey was far more convincing when Divock Origi’s flick freed Chadli and the goalkeeper came off his line to save smartly.
Wales were starting to come under pressure and when they failed to clear a corner, Lombaerts swivelled in a crowded area to strike the far post with no Belgian able to provide a telling touch on the rebound.
Belgium were pinning the visitors deep inside their own half and Joe Ledley was booked after conceding a free-kick within shooting distance.
But Hazard planted his shot into the Welsh wall and Belgium could not capitalise from the resulting corner as Marouane Fellaini’s flick-on escaped Chadli at the far post.
Bale was being completely isolated as Wales’ early promise on the break had disappeared and the defence were having to dig in, but they made it through to half-time after Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick was comfortably held by Hennessey under his crossbar.
Wales sent on George Williams at half-time to give them more attacking potency and the exciting Fulham teenager started well by slipping Vertonghen down the touchline.
But Belgium were still probing and Hazard shimmied his way to the edge of the area, where he forced Hennessey into saving at the base of a post.
Wales were keeping the ball better at the start of the second period and Bale drove at the Belgian defence to fire a shot across Courtois but just beyond the far post.
Bale was now starting to see more of the ball and his industry won a free-kick which again forced Courtois to be alert.
Belgium sent on Benteke and Dries Mertens to find the key to unlocking the Wales defence but too often the Red Devils were guilty of sending in aimless crosses.
But Belgium really began cranking up in the pressure in the final 10 minutes and Benteke headed over before Chris Gunter stopped Hazard reaching a loose ball in the area as danger lurked.
Wales were not settling for a draw, however, and a delightful move ended with George Williams back-heeling the ball into Hal Robson-Kanu’s path and Courtois having to go to ground to make the save.
The tempo of the contest was interrupted when Mertens suffered a nasty-looking injury in a clash with George Williams and Wales held on during six minutes of stoppage time to claim what could prove to be an invaluable point in the final reckoning.

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