Kevin De Bruyne scored a goal and set up another as Belgium produced a strong first-half performance to beat Wales 2-1 in their Nations League A clash at the King Bowdoin Stadium on Thursday.
Wales trailed no more than 2-0 at the break after goals from De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi, as well as spurning a number of chances from their hosts, but Kiefer Moore halved the deficit early in the second period. from nearby.
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Second-placed Belgium head to Amsterdam on Sunday with 10 points from five matches. They need a three-goal win to qualify for next year’s Nations League semi-finals ahead of the Netherlands, who top the group with 13 points.
The home side gave playmaker Eden Hazard 65 minutes as he looks to prove his form and fitness ahead of the World Cup in Qatar in November.
Gareth Bale pulled out of the Wales squad in the final half-hour, a positive sign for manager Rob Page ahead of their home game against Poland on Sunday. They are currently in last place with one point.
“I think we fully deserved to win, we dominated the first half and created a lot of chances,” De Bruyne told S4C. “Wales had more chances in the first half because they were playing man-to-man.
“Then we started the second half badly and we had to keep the ball and wait for the right moments because Wales played so deep.”
Belgium were dominant in the opening period with slick interplay centered around De Bruyne’s mercurial flair.
When he scored 10 minutes later, it extended Belgium’s incredible run to 49 games, the last of which was knocked out by France in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in St Petersburg.
Batshuayi linked De Bruyne on the edge of the box and his side-footed finish beat Wayne Hennessey in the Wales goal.
De Bruyne then hit the post with a shot from the same position, before he turned provider as Batshuayi whipped in a tap-in cross.
To their credit, Wales came out the more organized side in the second half, seizing the moment once Belgium took their feet off the bicycle.
They pulled a goal back five minutes after the break when the incisive Brennan Johnson’s trickery down the right wing got Moore a cross past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
The hosts were later awarded a penalty for Joe Morell’s challenge on De Bruyne, although a video assistant referee review showed the defender had taken a substantial touch on the ball and the result was overturned.
Belgium held on for the win, but not before coach Roberto Martinez was red carded for holding the ball on the touchline in extra time.
“It’s always going to be a tough game. They were really good tonight,” Moore told BBC Radio Wales. “We’re coming away not too disappointed – we’ll take the positives from it and go again on Sunday.
“A win keeps us in the group, so it’s all focus on Poland. I think we’re in a good place and it’s our last home game before going to the World Cup, so we can go out on a high and in a good position.”