Wales 0-2 Belgium: Captain Kompany and Vertonghen seal opening group win
This is the campaign – the qualification group where everything is supposed to come together. Media interest around the world couldn’t be higher and tonight’s game in Cardiff kicked off The Golden Generation’s (last time I say that) expect ascent to greatness.
The Rode Duivels may be coming off a big friendly win over rivals The Netherlands, and also with the inspiration of endless national paper column inches devoted to their successes of late, but this Group A World Cup 2014 qualification opener wasn’t as straight forward as it seemed. As past experiences has told us, Belgium have a nasty habit of throwing away perceived easy fixtures, and even more often make heavy weather of games against lesser teams.
Marc Wilmots opted for a very fluid formation, leaving out Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke and the not fully-fit Romelu Lukaku, selecting Everton’s Kevin Mirallas. His other big call was to drop Steven Defour (excellent against the Netherlands) for the in-form Moussa Dembele, following on from his impact in that game.
Like Wilmots, Chris Coleman was getting his first taste of competitive international football but unlike his Belgian counterpart, didn’t have the luxury of a multi-million pound squad, with eight players missing. Crucially, Joe Allen was ruled out due to illness and this left his plans in tatters.
It was a positive start for The Dragons, who had the opening chance on ten minutes as David Edwards hit the side-netting. The Rode Duivels had a ropey start – at the back, they were susceptible to anything aerial that Wales threw at them, whilst up front, it was the same old story as the forward six once again crossed wires.
The flashpoint of the first half came after 26 minutes, just as Belgium found their rhythm. Former auxillary right-back Guillaume Gillet and James Collins collided and referee Stefan Johannesson sent off the West Ham centre-back for dangerous play. Whilst Collins did jump in on on Gillet, he wasn’t the only guilty party in the incident. At first it seemed like a very harsh call, but replays indicated it was mistimed. Coleman could rightly feel aggrieved at Belgium getting the rub of the green with tight decisions however.
From there on in, Belgium did what they know best – to be profligate, with Dries Mertens missing two glaring chances, though the PSV player was by far Belgium’s brightest on the night. For Wales it was a case of damage limitation and they defended resolutely until four minutes from the end of the half. With the resilient Collins gone, the well-drilled defence fell asleep as captain Vincent Kompany headed in Mertens’ cross.
Wilmots introduced Romelu Lukaku for Mirallas at the start of the second half, hoping to quell Belgium’s continuing wastefulness. Yet the Baggies striker became another big name to miss good chances, heading over from a few yards out. Encouragingly, he was very lively in his 45 minutes as was Kevin De Bruyne who put in a good cameo.
Wales withstood further pressure and even showed glimpses of getting back into the game. Going forward Gareth Bale looked dangerously quick on the counter, but his best chance came from a set-piece forcing the inactive Thibaut Courtois into a good save. Chris Coleman is still looking for his side to score under his tenure and it wasn’t coming tonight – Wales having two shots to Belgium 16.
Nine minutes from the end, a contentious free-kick was given to Belgium. The onus fell on Spurs’s summer signing Jan Vertonghen to produce a piledriver past Boaz Myhill meaning he’s scored in consecutive games.
What did we learn? Not much – same old Belgium really, chances aplenty and no one stepping up to take them other than defenders strangely. Some fortuitous decisions went their way, but it was mostly a professional away win from Wilmots’s men. The real acid test is Croatia mid-week.
Wales - Myhill; Matthews, Blake, J Collins (RED 26′), Gunter; Edwards (King 80′), Williams, Ramsey, Bale; Morison (Vokes 72′), Church (Robson-Kanu 72′).
Manager – Chris Coleman
Belgium – Courtois, Gillet, Kompany, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Witsel, Fellaini, Dembele (De Bruyne 61′), Mertens, Hazard, Mirallas (Lukaku 45′)
Manager – Marc Wilmots