BRUSSELS (AFP) – Wales maintained their impressive start to the 2016 European Championship qualifiers with a superb defensive display to gain a vital draw against highly-fancied Belgium in a 0-0 draw on Sunday.
Nicolas Lombaerts hit the post for the Group B favourites with a first-half shot, but the Dragons held out.
Gareth Bale came closest for Wales with a low shot but the point which increases their tally to eight from the opening four games could be crucial for Chris Coleman’s side to reach a major tournament finals for the first time since 1958.
Coleman’s troops were also in the wars as Belgium’s Marouane Fellaini was lucky to escape action following a forearm smash on Joe Allen, who was left bloodied by the second half clash
Belgium sub Dries Mertens was carried off on a stretcher late on after a clash of heads with Wales’ George Williams.
The hosts were without captain and Manchester City centre-back Vincent Kompany and Wales almost capitalised on the defensive void in the sixth minute. Bale laid the ball into the on-running Aaron Ramsey, but the Arsenal midfielder was denied by Jan Vertonghen’s covering tackle.
The hosts enjoyed large spells of possession yet Wales always carried a threat, particularly on the counter-attack.
Bale forced Thibaut Courtois into a diving save in the 15th minute after Lombaerts conceded a free-kick for a high foot on Ramsey.
Within 60 seconds, a mazy run and from Hazard was gathered at the second attempt by Wayne Hennessey.
Belgium, ranked fourth in the world, increased the pressure on Wales and Hennessey came to their rescue to deny Nacer Chadli on 23 minutes.
Kevin de Bruyne fed Divock Origi and the Liverpool striker flicked pass set Chadli clean through, but the Crystal Palace stopper produced a fine save with his right leg.
The opener almost came for the Belgians three minutes later when Lombaerts cracked the post after a corner found its way to the back post and Origi failed to convert the rebound as his effort rolled wide.
Joe Ledley received his second booking of the qualification campaign with a foul on Axel Witsel, but Hazard’s free-kick failed to test Hennessey.
As the half wore on, loneman Bale became more and more isolated as Wales gifted possession away too cheaply. But the Real Madrid superstar finally received the ball in a dangerous area with five minutes of the half remaining.
Bale skinned Vertonghen, who had confidently claimed pre-match that he used to get the better of his old team-mate at Spurs, before Witsel covered to clear for a corner.