De Bruyne and Batshuayi help Belgium beat Wales in the Nations League

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

If this were Kevin De Bruyne when he’s bored, then Belgium’s World Cup opponents would do well to cringe at the prospect of the damage he could inflict when he’s in the mood. De Bruyne recently recounted how he had grown tired of playing Wales: this was Belgium’s ninth meeting with Wales in the last 10 years and fourth in the last 18 months, but he scored a sumptuous goal and set up another for Michy Batshuayi to put on them. . en route to a Nations League win in Brussels. Wales, who rightly saw in their favor a VAR review for a second-half penalty, were overwhelmed in the first half but improved greatly in the second and hit back through Kieffer Moore. Brennan Johnson set up Moore for his header and finished the game strong, hitting a wide shot with five minutes to go.

Related: Belgium 2-1 Wales: Nations League – live reaction

The final countdown was played over the loudspeakers 15 minutes before kick-off and there’s no escaping that for Wales all focus is on Doha and their first World Cup in 64 years. With Gareth Bale starting on the bench after arriving in Cardiff on Tuesday from playing for Los Angeles FC the day before and Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and Joe Allen all absent through injury, Wales were lined up without several key cogs. Romelu Lukaku was a notable absence for Belgium and perhaps it should have come as no surprise that they purred their way into a one-sided first half and fired like a well-oiled machine given that seven of their starters also started their Euro 2016 quarter-final defeat to Wales, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey being the only survivor of that day. This Wales display was a far cry from that surprise.

In truth, Wales were lucky to be just two goals into the interval. It seemed plausible that Belgium would score with every attack, such was the ease with which they advanced into the opponent’s 18-yard box. Youri Tielemans deflected off a cross from Yannick Carrasco and De Bruyne fired off a post after being slid by Eden Hazard, who then deflected a shot wide. Batshuayi also spooned before scoring. Wales were outclassed and invaded in midfield. De Bruyne, Hazard, Tielemans had time to pick their moments, dominating and outwitting Ethan Ampadu, on loan at Serie A club Spezia, and MK Dons’ Matt Smith, who withered in midfield. Aside from Joe Rodon and Ampadu seeing headers repelled by Thibaut Courtois just before half-time, Wales barely saw Belgium’s goal. Anderlecht defender Zeno Debast, 18 years old, had no problems at his debut.

Kieffer Moore heads home from Wales during their loss to Belgium. Photography: Shutterstock

Wales started brilliantly but found things to be difficult from the moment De Bruyne opened the scoring after 10 minutes, capping off a typically Belgian move. Hazard dropped deep to cradle possession and change the game. Belgium quickly changed the ball. Thomas Meunier fired a clever first-time pass into the right channel for Batshuayi, who saw De Bruyne lurking to the left of him. What happened next felt delicious and spiteful, painful from Welsh’s perspective. De Bruyne strode to the edge of the area and coolly deflected a first shot on goal, effortlessly outplaying Hennessey, powerless to prevent the ball from curling into the corner. De Bruyne’s art caused no end of trouble and his perfect, curved cross to the far post eight minutes before the break gave Batshuayi a simple touch.

The game was set for Belgium to run away with victory at a canter. Only Johnson and Moore, who showed some clean touches in the first half, had other ideas. Five minutes after the break, Johnson collected the ball inside the Wales half and quickly skated down the right flank, eluding Carrasco and Axel Witsel before setting up a cross towards the back post. Moore is always on the alert in the box and rose above Debast to head in. Wales reinforced the gaps in midfield and seemed determined to show that they are not pushovers. Then, in the 64th minute, Bale came on, instead of Moore. Hazard kept buzzing and Tielemans saw a shot go wide, but if Wales didn’t think there was a chance of a comeback, he did now.

De Bruyne set off to a warm ovation six minutes into second-half injury time, before which Johnson’s electric pace and energy had Belgium surprisingly tense and at a disadvantage. The Nottingham Forest striker fired a shot wide from Connor Roberts’ clever deflection before sending a ball across the goal. With 60 days to go before Wales’s match against the USA in Qatar, this proved to be an encouraging scoreline.

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