Both Mateo Kovacic and Ethan Ampadu went off injured during Wales and Croatia’s draw on Sunday, but Michy Batshuayi had better fortune, scoring his 16th goal for Belgium as they beat Kazakhstan.
Kovacic and Ampadu started in opposing midfields in Cardiff, and it was the visitors Croatia who struck early through a low Nikola Vlasic shot.
Wales took some time to get going, but once they raised their intensity levels they began threatening the Croatian goal and equalised in controversial fashion in first-half stoppage time.
Tottenham’s Ben Davies went through the back of Kovacic, emerged with the ball and played in Gareth Bale who slotted an equaliser. Kovacic stayed down, and after treatment he limped off and didn’t emerge for the second half.
Then three minutes into the second half, Bruno Petkovic clattered into Ampadu from behind as our youngster headed the ball. The Croatian striker was fortunate to only receive a yellow card, while Ampadu was replaced by Bristol City’s Joe Morrell after a long period of treatment. Happily, the man on loan at RB Leipzig was later pictured on his feet again in the Welsh dugout.
There were no more goals so it finished 1-1, a result boosting Croatia’s chances of qualifying for the Euros, but damaging Wales’s. Croatia are top of Group E with 14 points, six ahead of fourth-placed Wales who have played a game fewer than two of the countries above them, Hungary and Croatia.
Earlier on Sunday, Batshuayi bagged for Belgium as they won 2-0. The Red Devils had qualified for next summer’s European Championships with an emphatic victory over San Marino on Thursday, but they still fielded a strong side in Nur-Sultan, the Kazakh capital. With Romelu Lukaku suffering a niggle, Batshuayi was tasked with leading the line, and it was he who gave his country the lead on 21 minutes.
Neat interplay created space for Dennis Praet in the inside right channel, and his inviting cross was slammed home by Batshuayi at the far post. It was the 26-year-old’s 10th competitive goal for his country, and his fourth of this qualifying campaign. That record is all the more impressive considering this was his 28th game for Belgium.
Belgium doubled their lead early in the second half when Eden Hazard superbly picked out Thomas Meunier who calmly finished.
Batshuayi, who had earlier been booked for a late tackle, then turned provider, cleverly setting up great opportunities for first Hazard and then Dries Mertens, but both their attempts were off target. Mertens then had a golden chance to find Batshuayi for a tap-in, but his square pass was a fraction overhit and our striker, sliding on the artificial surface, couldn’t get enough meaningful contact on the ball.
Batshuayi was replaced by Christian Benteke with 12 minutes remaining. It finished 2-0 so Belgium maintain their 100 per cent record in qualifying for the Euros, with their campaign concluding next month with games in Russia and at home to Cyprus.