Wales won a beautiful draw against Belgium to secure a World Cup play-off semi-final at home.
Kevin de Bruyne’s graceful 20-yard shot put the world’s number one side in front in the 12th minute.
Cardiff City Stadium erupted when Kieffer Moore later tied in the first half for the hosts, whose tenacious performance fueled a feverish atmosphere.
Neco Williams nearly snatched a late win from Wales, but Koen Casteels saved his fierce deflected shot well.
As it turned out, the draw was enough to seal what could be a crucial home advantage in the semifinals of the March play-offs.
Wales had already secured a place in the play-offs thanks to their success in the Nations League, and their point against Belgium was enough to secure second place in Group E despite the Czech Republic’s victory over Estonia in third. place.
Now that they are seeded for the semi-finals, Wales have managed to avoid the daunting away ties against European champions Italy or Portugal, champions of Euro 2016, and could host players like North Macedonia.
Wales will discover their opponents in the semi-finals when the draw takes place on Friday 26 November.
Regardless of the opposition, however, Wales can be very proud and hopeful that they are now closer to qualifying for a World Cup than they have been since their only other appearance in 1958.
Wales thrives on the night of permutations
While this was a potentially complex night for Wales, there were two simple facts about the task they faced.
Beat Belgium and they would be guaranteed a play-off semifinal at home; they would lose and be far away.
It was a tie that would bring the other permutations. Then Wales would build on the results in other groups, needing Turkey not to win in Montenegro by four goals.
Montenegro kept their end of the bargain by limiting Turkey to a 2-1 win, but the added complication for Wales was that they faced the best team in the world.
Group winners Belgium had already qualified automatically and while they lacked star talents like Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku and Real Madrid attacking midfielder Eden Hazard, they could still name a formidable lineup.
De Bruyne exemplified that star quality with his goal. The captain reacted quickly to a blocked shot and, with hardly any recoil, the Manchester City midfielder gracefully guided his first curly shot into the net.
Belgium took control from that point but, despite all their dominance, Roberto Martínez’s team did not increase their lead.
They continued to threaten after Moore’s draw, especially when De Bruyne’s free kick floated to the edge of the penalty area, where Thorgan Hazard landed with a sweet volley that hit the post.
But even as the game stretched into the final stages when Wales grew weary of the physical exertions of competing against such graceful opposition, it was the home team that finished the strongest.
Williams came close to scoring a spectacular late-game winning goal and, although Casteels rejected the shot, the celebratory scenes after the final whistle showed how much he valued this result for Wales.
Wales impress in Bale’s absence
Wales were left without their captain and all-time top scorer, Gareth Bale, ruled out on the morning of the game after his 45-minute appearance in Saturday’s 5-1 win against Belarus, his first appearance after two months out. for a tear in the hamstring.
Bale’s absence did not seem to affect the home team in the first exchanges as they started with determination, pressing their illustrious opponents high up on the field.
Once De Bruyne scored, Wales had to endure long periods off the ball, but they diligently continued in their task of containing the world’s No. 1s and still posed a fleeting attacking threat of their own.
That was enough to level them out in the 32nd minute. Daniel James had two crosses blocked from the left wing, and on the third attempt the ball dodged two wild lunges from Axel Witsel and Arthur Theale and landed on Moore, who controlled the ball with the ball. diaphragm and shot a low shot past Koen Casteels on Belgium’s goal.
The celebrations were raucous. The goal felt precious as well as significant as it came off Wales’ first shot on goal.
Although Belgium enjoyed up to 75% possession at times, Wales applied superbly with an energetic team effort and had a chance to claim another memorable victory over Belgium, whose only defeat in their previous 47 qualifying matches came here at the Cardiff City Stadium in 2015.
That Euro 2016 qualifying victory was overshadowed the following summer with Wales’ momentous triumph in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals over Belgium, the best night in Welsh football history.
In March, they will have the opportunity to create even more magical memories, with Turkey, Poland, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Austria or the Czech Republic en route between Wales and a play-off final that could lead to a first World Cup. . since 1958.
- 3N Williams
- sixteenMorrellReserved at 34 minutes
- 10RamseyReplaced forJohnsonto 90 + 3 ‘minutes
- 13MooreReserved at 80 minutes
- twenty-oneCastagneReplaced forDendonckerto 59 ‘minutesBooked in 82 minutes
- 2TheateReplaced forVertonghento 85 ‘minutes
- fifteenMeunierReplaced forTrossardto 85 ‘minutes
- 10T DangerBooked in 71 minutes
- 7De Bruyne
- 18By KetelaereReplaced forSaelemaekersto 58 ‘minutesReserved at 75 minutes
- 17OrigiReplaced forVanzeirto 59 ‘minutes
- 23Sambi Lokonga
- Artur Manuel Soares Dias
End of the match, Wales 1, Belgium 1.
Second Half Final, Wales 1, Belgium 1.
Foul by Leander Dendoncker (Belgium).
Kieffer Moore (Wales) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Auction rejected. Attempt blocked. Dante Vanzeir (Belgium) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Shot stopped high and through the center of the goal. Dedryck Boyata (Belgium) header from the center of the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Jan Vertonghen with a header.
Corner, Belgium. Conceded by Ben Davies.
Auction rejected. Attempt blocked. Leandro Trossard (Belgium) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Alexis Saelemaekers.
Change, Wales. Brennan Johnson replaces Aaron Ramsey.
Failed attempt. Where are you going! It goes high and bad on the right. Dante Vanzeir (Belgium) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses the top right corner. Assisted by Alexis Saelemaekers.
Change, Belgium. Leandro Trossard replaces Thomas Meunier.
Change, Belgium. Jan Vertonghen replaces Arthur Theate.
Offside, Wales. Neco Williams tried a through ball but Aaron Ramsey was in an offside position.
Corner, Wales. Conceded by Koen Casteels.
Shot stopped high and through the center of the goal. Neco Williams (Wales) right footed shot from the left side of the box. Assisted by Daniel James.
Leander Dendoncker (Belgium) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Leander Dendoncker (Belgium).
Daniel James (Wales) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Kieffer Moore (Wales) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Axel Witsel (Belgium) wins a free kick in the defensive half.