A sensational Brennan Johnson cameo off the bench earned Wales a 1-1 draw with Belgium, their first point in their UEFA Nations League group campaign.

While a lot of UEFA Nations League games have been drab affairs with players already checking out for summer vacations, that was not the case with the feisty fixture between Wales and Belgium in Cardiff. A thoroughly engaging encounter with some real jeopardy and history in it. The fact that the hosts have only lost one of their last seven games against the world’s second-ranked nation in Belgium (W2 D4), none at home, reflects that.

This became even more apparent when Wales almost got off to a perfect start when Ethan Ampadu laced a half-volley into the top bins inside five minutes after some headed pinball resulted in a loose ball around the penalty area. Unfortunately for Wales and Ampadu, who struck his strike ever so well, the goal was chalked off for offside.

The first half ended goalless, but there was no lack of entertainment with a flurry of chances at both ends. Gareth Bale went close as Wales counter-attacked with purpose. Connor Roberts fluffed a couple of opportunities from promising positions over the bar before the break, but Belgium had the better of the chances when Leandro Trossard miscued his connection with a goal gaping.

Belgium broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half when an intricate passing move down the right saw Leandro Trossard find Michy Batshauyi free on the edge of the box. He initially looked to shoot before laying it off for the on-rushing Youri Tielemans, who dispatched it into the bottom corner with a graceful low strike.

Thereafter, the visitors swarm forward with menace again and again but were wasteful in trying to walk it into the back of the net with too many passes. They were duly punished for their ruefulness when a superb counter-attacking move concluded with Aaron Ramsey performing a Cruyff-turn layoff for another buzzing substitute, the 21-year-old attacking sensation Brennan Johnson, who scored his first goal for his country with a superb finish under pressure.

Belgium again showed their inconsistencies and this is a worrying sign for them. Widely considered as their greatest ever golden generation, so far they have not been able to reproduce it in terms of trophies and with most of this generation’s core in their thirties, the Qatar World Cup could represent the last chance to prove their worth.

On that note, The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Roberto Martinez’s men after the draw leaves them second in group A4 at the halfway stage of Nations  League campaign, three points cut-adrift of the Netherlands who also drew with Poland in Rotterdam.

Koen Casteels: 6/10

While Wales threatened the Belgium box on multiple occasions throughout the game, especially in counter-attacking situations, Casteels had an uneventful night in goal. There was not much that the Belgian keeper could have done to deny Brennan Johnson, and he was forced into a single save all night, with Belgium being dominant in possession. He must work on his distribution, though, as he misplaced nine long balls and completed only 75% of his attempted passes.

Arthur Theate: 6.5/10

The Belgium defenders had their fair share of problems up against Gareth Bale, and it needed a last-ditch clearance from Theate to deny the Welshman in what would have been an easy tap-in. Reasonably precise with the ball at his feet, he saw the ball more often than anyone else on the pitch (119 touches) while completing 95 of his 107 attempted passes. Booked for taking out James, he also lost possession of the ball 13 times.

Leander Dendoncker: 6/10

Handed another start in the back three, but Dendoncker had a largely unspectacular evening and was never really tested despite a lot of action around him. Completed 83 of the 87 passes he attempted, with a solitary clearance and interception being his only real defensive contributions on a quiet outing.

Dedryck Boyata: 7/10

Arguably Belgium’s best defender on the night, Boyata showed excellent defensive awareness throughout the 90 minutes, otherwise, the scoreline would be skewed in Wales’ favour. He looked assured in possession and helped Belgium in their build-up play. Apart from that, the centre-back looked calm and composed and was important to his team’s defensive shape.

The centre-back came up with a number of crucial blocks and interceptions, notably when Wales piled the pressure on the visitors in search of an equaliser. He finished with three clearances, three blocked shots, two interceptions, four tackles, won all of his ground duels (5/5) and was never dribbled past. A defensive rock.

Thomas Meunier: 5/10

Meunier failed to provide the necessary authority down the right-wing. While he did make forays forward, he looked rash in possession and only delivered some wasteful crosses. Not to mention, he seemed rusty and lacked sharpness, losing possession a whopping match-high 19 times during the match. The 29-year-old put in a decent effort in defence, though, making 3 clearances while also completing 2 tackles.

Youri Tielemans: 8/10

Tielemans was tasked with conducting play from deep in the midfield, and he did exactly what was asked of him. On multiple occasions, the Leicester playmaker lobbed in a stunning 50-yard pass to initiate Belgium’s threatening breaks. While the finish for his goal was simply sumptuous, it was the way he moved the ball that kept things ticking along, complementing Kevin De Bruyne’s dynamic movement.

And while he would have preferred to dictate the tempo of the match from the middle of the park late in the game, even off the ball, he produced two tackles that made him a standout performer.

Axel Witsel: 4/10

It was a rather subpar performance from the Borussia Dortmund enforcer after an all-action display against Poland last time out. He was unable to help Belgium assert total control over Wales, who threatened on turnovers, and it was Witsel’s prerogative to snuff out any danger, which he failed to do so with zero clearances or interceptions.

He lost all of his aerial duels, including one that led to Ampadu firing a half-volley into the top bins in the fifth minute. Thankfully for Witsel, the goal was ruled out for offside. He was uninspiring in attack as well, with a lot of sideways passing. Poor showing.

Yannick Carrasco: 6/10

Carrasco got forward with every opportunity that was afforded to him to support the attack and was found out of position a lot of times, which was apparent when he rashly fouled Ramsey to halt a blistering counter-attack. There were moments when Carrasco got the ball on the left side of the area and cut inside, only to lose balance, fail to dribble past his man, or over-hit his cross. The best instance came when he backed up Connor Roberts and placed a curler narrowly wide of the far post with Welsh goalie Hennessey rooted.

Leandro Trossard: 6/10

Trossard endured a game of hits and misses. He was involved in the build-up to the Tielemans goal, exhibiting some intricate footwork, and was linking quite well with De Bruyne, but he was rather wasteful with his chances, missing a sitter.

After Batshuayi mishit the shot, the ball fell kindly for Trossard with an open goal from eight yards out. He somehow managed to hit his shot into the ground, squandering the golden chance. After a prolific showing against Poland, the 27-year-old displayed why he is a part of Brighton’s notoriously underperforming frontline.

Kevin De Bruyne: 7/10

While he was not at his imperious best, De Bruyne continued to run the show for Belgium from the middle of the park. He stitched together rhythmic bouts of possession for Belgium and carved out enough opportunities.

The standout moment was when he surprised everyone by not sending in a cross but instead went with a precise curler destined for the bottom corner, only to be superbly denied by stretching Wayne Hennessey. The Manchester City star completed 2 long balls and 2 key passes but was uncharacteristically poor in retaining the ball, losing possession 18 times.

Michy Batshuayi: 5/10

Another largely forgettable game for Batshuayi, who  could not muster up a single effort at goal and should have done better with his scuffed attempt when set up by De Bruyne. Most of his runs were cut off at the start, and he was unable to make a real impact in the final third as much as he would have liked to. He bagged a lucky assist for Tielemans’s goal, though.

SUBSTITUTES

Thorgan Hazard: 5/10

On one hand, Wales’ substitutes changed the game, while Belgium’s substitutions were not so effective. Thorgan Hazard, for one, came on in the 61st minute for Carrasco but could not provide the spark that his team required at the time.

Dennis Praet: 5/10

Praet came on as a substitute in the 72nd minute to replace Trossard, and the less said about his presence on the pitch, the better. He lost possession four times, making only four passes and having just nine touches of the ball.

Eden Hazard: 5/10

Hazard replaced De Bruyne in the 72nd minute, but he failed to create chances for himself and was not involved in any attacking action, as evidenced by his ten touches of the ball.

Lois Openda: N/A

Did not play enough to warrant a rating.

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