Belgium got their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign off to the perfect start with a 3-1 victory over Wales in Leuven.
The visitors took the lead within 10 minutes with a superb three-pass move that allowed Harry Wilson to slot the ball into the far corner.
But Belgium bounced back later in the half, equalising through a long shot from Kevin De Bruyne before establishing the lead through a header from Thorgan Hazard.
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Wales put the hosts under pressure in the second half but conceded a penalty with less than 20 minutes to go and Romelu Lukaku slotted home for his 58th international goal.
Belgium will now face the Czech Republic in their next qualifier on Saturday, while Wales move on to play Mexico in a friendly in Cardiff.
Can Belgium cash it in? Roberto Martinez’s side are currently ranked number one in the world, yet so far their multi-talented squad have only achieved one third-placed finish at the 2018 World Cup in tournament play.
Covid-19 has disrupted the calendar significantly since then, but three further chances at greater success are incoming in the next two years: the rescheduled European Championship this summer, the Nations League finals in Italy in October and, if they carry on in this manner and qualify, the winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022. De Bruyne, the Hazards brothers, Lukaku, Thomas Meunier and Thibaut Courtois are all in peak years territory while Jan Vertonghen, Dries Mertens and Toby Alderweireld are comfortably the other side of 30.
If they are to be provably Belgium’s greatest generation, then they still have to emulate and surpass the great teams of the eighties. An early iteration reached the Euro 80 final, while a later one got to the last four of Mexico 86 before running into a roadblock named Diego Maradona. That’s the benchmark, and Martinez and his squad still have work to do to clear it.
Thorgan Hazard celebrates scoring for Belgium
Image credit: Getty Images
MAN OF THE MATCH – Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)
It’s possible that Joe Allen’s early departure opened up the space for him, but either way you simply can’t offer such time and room to De Bruyne. He methodically opened up Wales at several points and drew Belgium level with a nice goal from distance.
Belgium (3-4-3): Courtois 6; Alderweireld 6, Vermaelen 6, Vertonghen 6; Meunier 7, De Bruyne 8, Dedoncker 5, Tielemans 6; Mertens 6, Lukaku 7, Thorgen Hazard 7
Subs: Denayer 7, Castagne 6, Trossard 6
Wales (3-5-2): Ward 6; Mepham 5, Lawrence 6, Rodon 6; Roberts 7, Wilson 7, Allen 6, Ampadu 6, Neco Williams 6; James 6, Bale 7
Subs: Morrell 6, Roberts 6, Moore 6
10’ GOAL! Belgium 0 Wales 1 (Wilson 10) What a goal! Wales break down the right through Harry Wilson. Three one touch passes later, the last one from Bale to release Wilson clean through on goal and breaking Belgium's offside trap, leaves Wilson the chance to side-foot the ball into the far corner and give Wales the lead!
17’ CHANCE! What a miss by Lukaku! De Bruyne whips in a near perfect ball from the right, and Lukaku half-volleys the ball over the bar from six yards out.
22’ GOAL! Belgium 1 (De Bruyne 22) Wales 1 We're level, and it's out of nothing! Hazard finds De Bruyne, who is central and 25 yards from goal. He fires a low shot at goal, which flashes past Ward with one bounce and goes in off the post.
28’ GOAL! Belgium 2 (Hazard 28) Wales 1 This was so simple. Meunier swings a cross in from the right. Roberts slips at the back post, leaving Hazard completely free to head past Ward from six yards out.
72’ PENALTY! De Bruyne finds Meunier, whose cross is tipped away on the stretch by Ward. It falls to Mertens, who gets to the ball just ahead of Mepham who brings him down.
73’ GOAL! Belgium 3 (Lukaku pen. 73) Wales 1 It's in! Lukaku coolly sends Ward the wrong way and tucks the ball low into the net.
- Belgium haven’t lost a home international since a 2-0 defeat to Spain in September 2016.
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