Wales earn home World Cup play-off after Belgium draw

·3-min read
Wales striker Kieffer Moore (R) celebrates after scoring against Belgium (AFP/Paul ELLIS)

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.

"I couldn't be prouder. I was very emotional at the end. That group of men out there, to put that performance in after a big game on Saturday, it was outstanding," Page said.

"I'm not surprised at how positive our reaction was to their goal. We've done it before. We know how to dig deep."

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.

Wales will host one of Austria, North Macedonia, Poland, Ukraine, Turkey or the Czech Republic in the semis.

They are now just two wins away from reaching the World Cup for only the second time and the first since 1958.

"When the crowd is behind us like it was tonight, we'll take on anyone. We're not done yet, we're dreaming of a World Cup. It's definitely achievable," Page said.

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.

Even so, Belgium were quickly into their stride and De Bruyne put them ahead in the 12th minute.

Axel Witsel's blocked shot rebounded to the Manchester City midfielder and he caressed a fine strike into the bottom corner 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.

smg/iwd

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting