Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Wales secured a home semi-final in the World Cup qualifying play-offs as Kieffer Moore’s equaliser earned an impressive 1-1 draw against Belgium on Tuesday.
Rob Page’s side were already guaranteed a World Cup play-off spot in March through their Nations League results.
But finishing second in Group E would ensure they avoided a daunting trip to the likes of Italy and Portugal in the play-off semi-finals.
When Kevin De Bruyne put Belgium ahead in the first half, that ambition was under threat.
But Cardiff striker Moore equalised at his Championship club’s stadium in the Welsh capital to guarantee the valuable play-off seeding after Turkey failed to secure the four-goal victory they needed against Montenegro.
With a home one-legged semi-final secured, Wales will go into the draw later in November feeling more confident about their bid to qualify for the World Cup.
They are now just two wins away from reaching the World Cup for only the second time and the first since 1958.
Belgium, top of FIFA’s world rankings, had clinched World Cup qualification with a 3-1 win against Estonia on Saturday.
Although the Red Devils had nothing to play for after earning top spot in Group E, they didn’t roll over and are now unbeaten in 28 major tournament qualifiers under boss Roberto Martinez.
After two months out with a hamstring injury, Wales captain Gareth Bale had returned to action to win his 100th cap in the 5-1 rout of Belarus on Saturday.
But the Real Madrid forward came off at half-time in that game and was omitted from the matchday squad to face Belgium.
It was Moore who replaced Bale in an inspired move by Page.
– Gritty Wales –
Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Youri Tielemans were all absent for injury-hit Belgium as Martinez made six changes.
The understudies were quickly into their stride as Divock Origi turned on the edge of the Wales area and drilled in a low strike that Danny Ward pushed away.
It was a warning Wales failed to heed as De Bruyne put Belgium ahead in the 12th minute.
Axel Witsel’s blocked shot rebounded to Manchester City midfielder De Bruyne and he caressed a fine strike into the bottom corner of Ward’s net from 20 yards.
De Bruyne has been below his best at times this season, so the goal was a welcome boost as he prepares to return to club duty in a hectic period for the Premier League champions.
Belgium monopolised possession for long periods in the first half, but Wales snatched an equaliser in the 32nd minute.
Daniel James’ cross drew a panicked response from the Belgian defence, with Arthur Theate completely missing his attempted clearance as the ball ran for Moore to fire home from close-range.
Joe Morrell’s foul on Witsel drew a booking that rules him out of the semi-finals.
Thorgan Hazard was inches away from restoring Belgium’s lead with a superb volley that cannoned off the post from De Bruyne’s free-kick.
Bravely pressing high up the pitch, Page’s gritty team tenaciously held on and almost won it in the final moments when Neco Williams’ curler was tipped away by Koen Casteels.