Calming half-time entertainment.
Wales have looked half-decent in attack, but otherwise they’ve been very much second best. Belgium could easily have had a few more. They’ve been magnificent. Here’s Peter Oh: “I’m afraid even a rousing half-time speech by Michael Sheen himself won’t fix this one.”
45 min: Roberts races down the right and wins a corner. Could Wales grab something that could totally alter the momentum of this game? Well, nearly. The corner gets all the way through to Williams on the left. He’s got time to trap and shape a shot towards the top right. Unfortunately it pings off Norrington-Davies’s shoulder and over for a goal kick.
44 min: Nothing comes of that corner either. Wales could do with half time.
43 min: Nothing comes of the corner, which is half cleared. Hazard comes back at Wales and wins another.
42 min: Belgium, unruffled, go back up the other end and continue to probe. Suddenly Tielemans creams a long pass up the right flank. De Bruyne strides towards the box and threads a shot towards the bottom left. It’s heading in, but Hennessey sticks out a boot to deflect it wide of the post.
40 min: Free kick for Wales out on the left. They load the Belgian box. James curls it into the mixer. Rodon wins a header at the far post. Witsel is forced to hack out of his six-yard box. Ampadu heads back goalwards. Courtois parries, and the hosts clear. Much better from Wales!
39 min: Imagine what De Bruyne would do against opponents that don’t bore him.
De Bruyne’s already scored one. Now he’s set one up. He powers into the Welsh box down the right. He’s got the beating of Ampadu, and rolls across for Batshuayi, who can’t miss from a couple of yards. It had been coming, to say the least.
36 min: Johnson twists and turns down the right. His tenacious dribble earns a corner off Carrasco. James hits it long … but it’s an easy pick for Courtois, who tries to send De Bruyne away on the counter. Roberts comes across to put a stop to his gallop, and is brought down by De Bruyne for his trouble. Brave defending that nixed any notion of a break.
34 min: Belgium go up the other end and nearly make it two for the umpteenth time. Hazard cuts in from the left and his low curler whistles inches wide of the right-hand post. Not sure Hennessey had that covered.
33 min: The Welsh press bears fruit, as Belgium’s attempt to play out from the back rebounds to the feet of James, who dribbles into the box from the right and takes a shot. It’s blocked. Then the flag goes up for a handball against Moore, as it turns out that was how Wales snaffled possession in the first place. But it’s something.
31 min: Hazard is at the heart of everything right now, as Belgium probe this way and that.
29 min: Belgium have enjoyed 68 percent of possession so far. They look even more dominant than that statistic suggests. The Welsh midfield is getting totally overrun.
27 min: There are huge gaps in the midfield for Belgium to romp into. Hazard strides down the middle and tees up De Bruyne, who has aeons to line up a screamer. He cannons a shot off the base of the left-hand post. The rebound falls to Carrasco, who is offside, but Hennessey isn’t to know, and makes a fine block of a low shot. A second goal is surely just a matter of time. “Quite a statement to bench Ward, who’s actually playing (if awfully poorly) every week,” writes Harriet Osborn. “Maybe it’s a much needed fire under the seat.”
25 min: Belgium really are knocking at the door for a second. Carrasco drops a shoulder to come in from the left. His shot is deflected out for a corner, from which Witsel flicks a header on for Batshuayi. The striker blazes wide right and high. Wales are hanging on a bit here.
24 min: Belgium paint some pretty triangles down the left. Then suddenly Batshuayi flicks De Bruyne free with a lovely no-look reverse pass. De Bruyne romps into the box and scuffs his shot from a tight angle. He really should have rolled across to tee up Tielemans.
22 min: More patient Belgian passing. They’re beginning to make Wales chase. Possession at a premium for the visitors now.
20 min: Hazard sashays in from the left and rolls infield for De Bruyne, who has Meunier bombing down the inside-right channel, screaming for a pass as he reaches the edge of the box. De Bruyne decides to spin and take the shot on himself. Three rugby points. For once, De Bruyne makes the wrong decision.
18 min: That goal has understandably taken a bit of the wind from the Welsh sail. Shame, they’d started so well. “As brilliant as KDB is, that was the attempted save of a keeper who hasn’t played much this season say the S4C comms team,” reports Phillip Wainwright. “Must admit I agree.”
16 min: A long ball down the middle nearly opens Wales up. Batshuayi looks to have sprinted clear of Norrington-Davies, but the Welsh midfielder fights back and gets a block in, just in time.
15 min: So nearly a second for the hosts. Carrasco turns Roberts inside out down the left and crosses low for Tielemans, who nearly steers the ball into the bottom-right corner again. This time the ball shaves the outside of the post. “Dammit,” cries Matt Dony. “All Wales for ten minutes. One Belgian attack, and they score. Typical. Still, plenty of time for a Hal Robson-Kanu moment…”
13 min: Wales try to respond through Williams, sent scampering down the left by Moore. The resulting cross floats harmlessly out of play for a goal kick.
12 min: Hennessey got a hand to that, but couldn’t stop it. Fierce yet forensic. De Bruyne is such a class act, like that’s breaking news.
Well, scrub that. Belgium hog the ball for a bit. They patiently stroke it around, this way and that. Suddenly Batshuayi tears down the right flank. He’s got Meunier racing by his side on the overlap, but instead cuts back for De Bruyne, who adjusts his body and steers a powerful sidefoot into the bottom right from the edge of the box. Sensational finish! He’s not bored now!
8 min: Roberts throws long from the right. Moore wins a flick on, but there’s nobody in white to take advantage. Courtois claims. Wales will be more than happy with the way these first few minutes have gone.
7 min: A chance for Carrasco to release De Bruyne down the left. His pass is too heavy, allowing Roberts to come across and play the ball off the Manchester City man and out for a goal kick. De Bruyne fumes quietly. Or perhaps he’s just bored.
6 min: Belgium take a little of the sting out of things with some sterile possession at the back.
4 min: Tielemans, perhaps low on confidence given Leicester’s troubles, ships possession with absurd ease in the centre circle. Johnson races off with attacking intent, only for the Welsh counter to be stopped in its tracks by the whistle because there are two balls on the pitch. Rob Page is not happy.
2 min: A fast start by Wales sees Williams cross deep from the left, then Johnson return the favour from the right. Neither delivery is of the required quality, but the early signs are that Wales have come here to give it a go.
8 seconds: Moore sticks his elbow into Vertonghen’s jaw and is pretty lucky not to go into the book. An early calling card.
After both teams take the knee in a gesture of solidarity against discrimination, Wales get the ball rolling. A bit more noise coming from the crowd now, to be fair.
The teams are out! Belgium wear red, forcing Wales into second-choice white. The King Baudouin Stadium isn’t filled to capacity, far from it, and so the atmosphere is slightly lacking, though the Welsh travelling support are doing their bit by giving it plenty. We’ll be off after the anthems. Enough time for Mary Waltz to set a poser: “How can it be that Belgium, with all that amazing talent, has underperformed so consistently?” No idea, Mary, sorry.
Rob Page speaks to S4C. “We’ve gone as strong as we possibly could. It would be too much of a risk to play Gareth Bale from the start. No doubt he’ll play some part tonight, but it would have been crazy to play him from the start. We’re up against good opposition, and we’re prepared for a tough battle. It’s all about this game. They want to finish top of the group, we want to stay in the division, so there’s everything to play for.”
Gareth Bale, currently in the process of increasing his match fitness with Los Angeles FC, starts this one on the bench. Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey takes the captain’s armband. Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies, Harry Wilson and Joe Allen are all missing through injury.
In other superstar news, Kevin De Bruyne starts for Belgium, while Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard captains the side. Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans also starts.
Belgium: Courtois, Debast, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Carrasco, De Bruyne, Batshuayi, Hazard.
Subs: Mignolet, Casteels, Theate, Openda, Mertens, De Ketelaere, Trossard, Onana, Dendoncker, Vanaken, Castagne, Saelemaekers.
Wales: Hennessey, C Roberts, Rodon, Mepham, N Williams, Smith, Ampadu, Norrington-Davies, James, Moore, Johnson.
Subs: Ward, King, Gunter, Cabango, Levitt, T Roberts, Bale, Morrell, J Williams, Harris, Thomas, Harris.
Referee: Ali Palabıyık (Turkey).
Wales’s A4 Nations League campaign took an understandable back seat to their World Cup qualifying bid. Robert Page and his Qatar-bound men wouldn’t change a thing, but as a result relegation from the top tier of Uefa’s shiny new tournament looks more likely than not. If they’re not to go down, they’ll need to at least one win from their last two matches, two if Poland beat the Netherlands tonight. Small problem: Wales have never beaten Belgium on their own pitch, and since knocking them out of Euro 2016, are winless in three against the world number two side, losing on their last visit 3-1 in 2021. Big game coming up, then; just as well Wales have developed a habit of turning up for them. Kick off is at 7.45pm BST. It’s on!