At the end Chris Coleman turned to hug all those with him on the bench while his Wales team went off to hurl their shirts into the throng of visiting supporters dancing jubilantly in one corner of the stadium here in Brussels. The scenes were from a script reflecting a Welsh victory rather than a 0-0 draw but its significance could not be underplayed: this was a huge point for Wales in their fight to qualify for the 2016 European Championship finals.
It keeps them unbeaten though they were deposed as leaders of Group B by Israel. The draw was not the result the home side were looking for and by the end Belgium were resorting to ambitious attempts from far out or, in Eden Hazard’s case, an extravagant attempt to cross which failed miserably. Hearts were in mouths when a scramble ensued following an Adnan Januzaj corner in added time, but that was the scariest moment Wales had to contend with.
Mission had definitely been accomplished as centre-back Ashley Williams, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and the rest of the defence held firm.
With Belgium and Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke another second-half introduction, there were Premier League luminaries all over the pitch trying to break down Wales’ defensive wall, but the fourth best team in the world – according to Fifa rankings – came no closer than an attempt from Jan Vertonghen that crashed back off the upright.
“Our courage earned us a point,” Wales manager Coleman said. “We worked all week on our shape without the ball because we knew we would not have a lot of possession and we limited them to only a few chances. Eighteen months ago we would probably have buckled and lost but we have grown as a team.
“We have a better game understanding when we don’t have the ball because we know [if you] give these players half a yard they will punish you.”
Coleman employed Gareth Bale as a No 9, his most advanced player seeking to lead counter-attacks into the heart of a Belgium defence missing captain Vincent Kompany. In the first half Bale was rarely seen; in the second there were one or two moments of magic from the Real Madrid player.
But this was a night to salute Welsh endeavour, resistance and discipline, not just the brilliance of Bale.
“We can’t have one player on the pitch who does not pull his weight and Bale epitomised that. We’ve had more out of our creative players in other games but defensively we could not have asked for any more,” Coleman added.
Chelsea star Hazard was stationed down the left for Belgium, but spent much of the 90 minutes roaming the pitch, elegantly throwing his pursuers off with a sway of his hips. In the fifth minute he burst into life with a change of direction that took out three defenders, but Nacer Chadli subsequently made a mess of the attempted cross.
Bale stabbed a ball through to Aaron Ramsey only for Vertonghen to prevent a possible breach of the Belgium net with a tackle in the nick of time.
Bale then unleashed a free-kick that dipped and swerved, but goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois managed to scramble the ball away to safety. Yet whenever Wales advanced it was in trepidation that something could unravel at the other end. From a rare Wales corner Belgium broke away with Hazard at the heart of things and his eventual shot forced a save from Hennessey.
Williams and James Chester refused to be daunted by the challenge, regularly winning the high balls and cajoling those around them in yellow to keep their concentration levels high. Any lapse could have proved fatal and sometimes possession was wasted too frequently, with the industrious Ramsey particularly culpable.
A clever flick from Divock Origi put Chadli through on goal in the 23rd minute, but Hennessey was able to pull off a vital save by smothering the ball. The confidence he gained from that save helped him remain strong throughout.
However, he enjoyed a slice of luck three minutes after the Chadli chance when Vertonghen’s shot came back off the post, Origi unable to test the keeper as his effort on the rebound was off target.
Belgium substitute Dries Mertens clashed heads with Wales striker George Williams late on and lay prostrate on the ground before he was taken off on a stretcher having suffered mild concussion.Reuse content