Belgium defeats Wales in the Nations League thanks to De Bruyne and Batshuayi.

Belgium defeats Wales in the Nations League thanks to De Bruyne and Batshuayi.

Belgium defeats Wales in the Nations League thanks to De Bruyne and Batshuayi.
Belgium takes the lead over Wales thanks to Kevin De Bruyne's goal. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

If this is Kevin De Bruyne when he's bored, Belgium's World Cup opponents should be worried about the harm he can do when he's in the mood. De Bruyne recently stated that he was tired of playing Wales - this was Belgium's ninth meeting with Wales in the last ten years and the fourth in the last 18 months - but he scored a magnificent goal and set up another for Michy Batshuayi to put them on their way to a Nations League victory in Brussels. 

Wales, who were properly awarded a VAR review for a second-half penalty, were outclassed in the first half but came back with a goal from Kieffer Moore in the second. Brennan Johnson set up Moore's header and ended strong, dragging a shot wide with five minutes remaining.

The Final Countdown blared over the speakers 15 minutes before kickoff, and there is no ignoring the fact that all eyes are on Doha and Wales' first World Cup in 64 years. Wales lined up without several crucial cogs, with Gareth Bale starting on the bench after arriving in Cardiff on Tuesday fresh from playing for Los Angeles FC the day before, and Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies, and Joe Allen all missing through injury.

Belgium were missing Romelu Lukaku, and it should come as no surprise that they plowed through a one-sided first half and fired like a well-oiled machine given that seven of their starting lineup also started their Euro 2016 quarter-final defeat to Wales, with goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey the sole survivor. This Wales performance was far from shocking.

Wales were lucky to be behind by only two goals at the half. The ease with which Belgium pushed towards the opposing 18-yard box made it appear as if they would score on every assault. After meeting a Yannick Carrasco cross, Youri Tielemans strayed wide, then De Bruyne cannoned a shot against the post after being slipped in by Eden Hazard, who subsequently bent an effort just wide. 

Before scoring, Batshuayi also spooned over. Wales was outmatched and outrun in midfield. De Bruyne, Hazard, and Tielemans dominated and outwitted Ethan Ampadu, on loan at Serie A club Spezia, and Matt Smith of MK Dons, who wilted in the center of the pitch.

Aside from Joe Rodon and Ampadu having heads saved by Thibaut Courtois on the brink of half-time, Wales scarcely saw the Belgium goal. Zeno Debast, an 18-year-old Anderlecht defender, made his debut without incident.

Belgium defeats Wales in the Nations League thanks to De Bruyne and Batshuayi.
During Wales' loss to Belgium, Kieffer Moore returns home. Credit : Shutterstock

Wales started strongly, but the going got harder as De Bruyne scored the opener on 10 minutes, concluding a typically smooth Belgium move. Hazard dived deep to seize possession and change the play. Belgium quickly changed the ball. 

Thomas Meunier sped a beautiful first-time pass into the right channel for Batshuayi, who spotted De Bruyne to his left. From Wales' perspective, what occurred next seemed both wonderful and vindictive. De Bruyne went to the box's edge and calmly side-footed a first-time shot towards goal, squeezing his attempt past Hennessey, who was helpless to prevent the ball landing in the corner.De Bruyne's skill created havoc, and his beautiful, curving cross towards the back post eight minutes before the interval provided Batshuayi with an easy tap-in.

The stage was set for Belgium to run away with the game. Only Johnson and Moore, who added some nice touches in the first half, had a different plan. Johnson scooped up the ball inside Wales' half and quickly glided down the right wing, avoiding Carrasco and Axel Witsel before standing a cross up towards the back post. Moore is always vigilant in the six-yard box, towering above Debast to nod in. Wales filled the gaps in midfield and were ready to prove they are no pushovers.

Then, after 64 minutes, Bale replaced Moore. Hazard's buzz continued, and Tielemans' effort was deflected over, but if Wales didn't feel there was room for a comeback before, they did now.

De Bruyne was given a standing ovation as he went into six minutes of second-half stoppage time, before Johnson's enthusiasm and electrifying pace had Belgium uncharacteristically tense and on the back foot. Following Connor Roberts' excellent pass, the Nottingham Forest attacker arrowed a shot wide before flashing a ball across goal. With 60 days until Wales' match against the United States in Qatar, this proved to be an optimistic sign.

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