Belgium 3 Wales 1: Martinez’ men show class but plenty of positives for a battling Wales

Roberto Martinez’ men claimed all three points against Wales in their first World Cup qualifying game thanks to goals from Kevin De Bruyne, Thorgan Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in what was an entertaining game at Brussels. 

Wales got off to an absolutely blistering start with a goal that the legendary Brazil and Netherlands sides would have been proud of as Harry Wilson finished off a magical move on the ten minute mark.

A possible upset was yet again on the cards for the Belgians against Wales, who were famously knocked out 3-1 by Chris Coleman’s side at the EURO 2016 Quarter-Final in Lille.

Such heroics could not be repeated on this night however against a Belgian team that came into this contest on formidable form. In fact, since again losing to Wales 1-0 in 2015’s EURO qualifying match, the Belgians have bulldozed into a near perfect run where they have picked up an astonishing  23 qualifying wins from a possible 24 games.

It was that man Kevin De Bruyne who cancelled out Wales’ wonderfully worked goal thanks to a venomous strike from about 25 yards out in the 22cnd minute and set a precedent for the rest of the half that Wales were unable to cope with.

The Manchester City Maestro dominated the middle of the park and was influential to Belgium’s dominance for the first 45 minutes. Everything ran through him and his silky smooth passing crippled Wales and pushed them back further and further into their own penalty area. It was so patient. It was so precise.

With such an adept ability of moving the ball quickly, very much like that of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, Belgium were able to create constant overlaps down on both touchlines and were finally rewarded with a goal when Thomas Meunier marauded down the right flank and whipped in a cross that found Thorgan Hazard. Within the space of five minutes Wales were now down 2-1 and seemed unable to respond to this poignant pressure.

Promising sings

Having held on for the rest of the first half, Wales were fantastic for the opening 15 minutes of the second as they pressed Belgium and looked a far more dangerous proposition.

There was a real intent about their play which saw them have plenty of ball in this period. Joe Morrell of Luton Town was a standout performer in this brief spell of Welsh dominance and looked no stranger sharing the pitch with the likes of De Bruyne and Your Tielemans. With Joe Allen going off injured early in the first half, Morrell really stepped up to the plate and will have undoubtedly given the coaching staff a selection headache ahead of the next qualifying game against the Czech Republic.

Joe Rodon was another standout performer who looked resolute and composed against an attacking trio of talented Belgians. It is no surprise that the young and highly promising defender switched from Swansea to Spurs this season, as he demonstrated his ability to read the game and win battles against a Romelu Lukaku that has been on fire for top of the table Inter Milan this season.

While Wales’ second half promising spell ultimately came to nothing, those fans who watched the game would have been pleasantly surprised on how they responded early in the second half. It was a shame that Romelu Lukaku’s penally stopped the wind in this Welsh side’s sails, as they were genuinely taking the game to Belgium. From there however Belgium once again reinstated their mark on the game and kept the ball as they had in the first 45 and restricting Wales to just a few sniffs at goal.

Martinez opted to keep his midfield general De Bruyne on the field and urge his team to maintain their crisp and authoritative passing, a testament to this Welsh team who had gained the respect of their opponents and who were well aware of the quality and danger this promising team possesses.

This was ultimately a game too far for a battling Wales. The Belgian’s patient passing in the first 45 stretched Wales from touchline to touchline, as they slowly progressed up into welsh territory and broke down their defences with a final sting of quality, which is what you would suspect from a team blessed with brilliant players. It’s no shame at all losing to Belgium but Wales must know regroup for what seems like an already vital encounter against the Czech Republic, who were victorious tonight against Estonia.  With Belgium seemingly nailed on to finish top the group, the race for second will most likely be decided by these two.

Bale still has a massive part to play

He set up the first goal and even attempted a bicycle kick. The snippets of freedom and brilliance of Gareth Bale whilst playing in the yellow jersey would have brought great optimism to Welsh fans who watched last night and reassured those who doubted him that the Galctico superstar still has the hunger and desire to be the catalyst to fire this Welsh side into a World Cup.

The spurs-loanee has only just began showing his glimpses of his best at North London, and although he has scored a respectful 10 goals from 25 games for Jose Mourinho’s team, we all know he can do so much better.

The romantic return to Spurs is not what Welsh fans and indeed premier League fans would have envisaged for the flying Welshman. Having not been able to solidify a place in the starting eleven, questions have arisen on whether the 31 year old still has the huger and desire to play football at the highest level.

In Bale’s defence, playing for a Jose Mourinho’s team doesn’t exactly allow him to play with the freedom that we saw glimpses of against Belgium, and any manager with a more attack-minded philosophy would have licked their lips with a front 3 prospect of Kane, Son and Bale and perhaps gotten more out of a player that flourishes in a team that plays on the front foot.

For Bale now the most important thing is to stay fit. Even though he might not be able to play with the attacking freedom he desires at Tottenham, the Welsh wizard must keep his head down and get as many minutes under his belt as possible.

He will undoubtedly do this with key qualifying games to be played this year. Not one single person can deny his love and commitment for his beloved country. We saw tonight that a flame still persists, and as long as this burning passion remains, Wales’ greatest ever player will continue to play a vital role for his nation.

featured image credit sky sports