WALES 0 BELGIUM 2
RED continued to be the colour at the Cardiff City stadium last night as the red Dragons of Wales were left red faced by James Collins’ red card.
Wales’ road to Rio took a turn for the worse just 25 minutes into this opening World Cup 2014 qualifier as Newport’s Collins’ crazy lunge left the hosts a man light for well over an hour.
It wouldn’t have taken famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to work out it was Collins ‘who done it’ as Wales’ hopes of a flying start evaporated with his reckless moment.
Collins’ dismissal merely capped a night that had already been going wrong even before kick-off.
While all the talk throughout the week was of continuity and playing to a system the players were used to, the last minute absence of Joe Allen to illness and injury seemed to force Coleman into a drastic and unexpected switch of shape and personnel.
Simon Church was a surprise call-up to replace the injured Craig Bellamy and Coleman produced a major shock in selecting Ashley Williams as an anchor in midfield with Darcy Blake partnering Collins for the first time at the heart of the defence.
It was certainly not what the Belgium coach would have been expecting and it was the hosts who started the stronger, Edwards volleying into the side netting after Bale’s neat header into his path evaded fellow Spurs man Jan Vertonghen.
Vertonghen had a tough job containing Bale and on 18 minutes a blistering run saw him evade the Belgian backline, but his cross was over hit.
This was an uncharacteristically fine start to a qualifying campaign with the width and imagination coming from Wales, but the ability to shoot themselves in the foot came to the fore on 25 minutes when James Collins was dismissed for a two-footed lunge at Guillaume Gillet.
Collins has endured a nightmare spell for his country after a loss of form saw him dropped for Darcy Blake midway through the last campaign and his unnecessary challenge will no doubt have infuriated Coleman.
It set the pattern for a remainder of the half dominated by Belgium, Chelsea’s enigmatic schemer Eden Hazard curling just wide on 35 as Wales dropped deeper and deeper.
Their chances were restricted to Bale led breaks and from one dart up the right Steve Morison’s goalbound effort was blocked by Gillet.
It was a decisive moment. Belgium weren’t making their number advantage count as they should but on 41 minutes the simplest of corner routines saw Dries Mertens’ near post curler expertly headed home by Vincent Kompany despite the attention of two defenders.
Things got no better after the break, a succession of Belgian attacks only failing to produce a second goal because of a lack of poise in front of goal, Alex Witsel, Romelu Lukaku and Vertonghen all hitting the side netting.
Wales were struggling to even get out of their own half but when they did it was Bale who again looked most likely, winning a freekick that he smashed towards goal, Thibaut Courtois tipping it behind only for Williams to come close with a header from the subsequent corner.
The Belgium first XI have gone for in the region of £150 million in the past few years and for long periods in the second half they were like a cat toying with a ball of wool, Wales tepid and under the cosh with the visitors vibrant and full of width and imagination.
A second goal seemed inevitable and duly arrived with eight minutes remaining when Spurs man Vertonghen cracked home a sumptuous freekick after Aaron Ramsey cheaply gave away a foul.
It was fantasy stuff from the hotly-tipped Belgians for most of the second half and in truth Wales were lucky to only lose by two as their campaign got off to a horribly familiar and inauspicious start.
Wales: Myhill, Gunter, Matthews, Collins, Williams, Blake, Edwards (King 78), Church (Robson-Kanu 70), Morison (Vokes 70), Ramsey, Bale
Subs not used: Brown, Davies, Ricketts, Vaughan, Earnshaw, Williams, Price Booked: Williams (83)
Sent off: Collins (25)
Belgium: Courtois, G Gillet, Vermaelen, Kompany, Vertonghen, Witsel, Dembele (De Bruyne 63), Fellaini, Mirallas (Lukaku 46), Hazard, Mertens
Subs not used: Mignolet, Ciman, Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Carnargo, Defour, Lombaerts, JF Gillet, Simons, Benteke
Booked: Vertonghen (88)
Referee: Stefan Johannesson (Sweden)
Argus star man: Eden Hazard