Kevin de Bruyne was at his masterful best as Belgium withstood a spirited fightback from Wales to leave them teetering on the brink of relegation in the Nations League.
De Bruyne casually stroked in the opening goal from the edge of the penalty area and hit the post with another shot from a similar distance before crossing for Michy Batshuayi to tap in the home side’s second.
Belgium’s 2-0 half-time lead was no reflection of their avalanche of chances, and that advantage was cut in half when Kieffer Moore headed in from Brennan Johnson’s beautifully flighted cross.
After Belgium had a penalty overturned by the video assistant referee as replays showed Joe Morrell had cleanly dispossessed De Bruyne, Wales pushed for an unlikely late equaliser but were thwarted by a home side who could not have envisaged such a nervy conclusion to a game they seemed destined to win at a canter.
With Poland losing at home to the Netherlands, Wales must now beat Poland in Cardiff on Sunday to keep their place in the top flight of the Nations League.
Robert Lewandowski and company will pose Robert Page’s men with another stern challenge and, while Poland may not be of the same standard of this stellar Belgian side, Wales will still be without numerous first-team players due to injury.
The absence of the likes of Ben Davies, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Harry Wilson was keenly felt in Brussels, but a brave second-half display offered enough encouragement to suggest Wales belong at this level.
‘Bored’ but brilliant De Bruyne inspires Belgium
This was the ninth meeting between these teams in 10 years and the fourth in the past 18 months; understandable, then, that De Bruyne said beforehand he was “bored” of facing these opponents.
The Manchester City midfielder was a picture of cool indifference for his goal, nonchalantly side-footing a first-time shot with his left foot which deceived Hennessey, who got a hand to the ball but could not prevent it from nestling in the bottom corner.
De Bruyne can be close to unstoppable regardless of the opposition, so it only exacerbated matters for Wales that they were so charitable in possession and slack in their closing down of the Belgian maestro.
Matt Smith gave the ball away for the opening goal, while Wales’ defenders were alarmingly standoffish when De Bruyne lined up a 20-yard shot which had Hennessey rendered motionless as it cannoned off the post.
The Wales keeper had a busy first half and, were it not for wayward Belgian finishing with various other shots flying wide, the visitors would have been facing a hammering.
Depleted Wales fight back
As has often been the case in recent matches, Wales were without several influential players due to injury.
The absence of Davies, Ramsey, Allen and Wilson amounted to 260 missing caps, while captain Gareth Bale – a veteran of 106 appearances – was only on the bench.
It left Wales’ starting line-up with 364 caps, 104 of which belonged to Hennessey, whereas Belgium boasted 899.
That gulf in experience – and a wider chasm in quality – was glaringly obvious in a first half in which Wales’ midfield could not keep the ball or track opposition runners and their defence was run ragged.
The visitors looked ripe for a thrashing as they trailed at the break but, to their credit, they started the second half with purpose and shocked Belgium with a goal from nothing.