Nations League: Brennan Johnson strikes late as Wales draw with Belgium
Brennan Johnson’s first international goal earned Wales a dramatic point against Belgium in the Nations League at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Ethan Ampadu thought he had given Wales the lead early on when he fired an effort into the top corner, only for VAR to rule an offside in the build-up.
Belgium missed a number of first-half chances, but finally broke the deadlock when Youri Tielemans’ calm effort into the bottom right corner beat the returning Wayne Hennessey.
Rob Page turned to his bench for a spark, and found it in Johnson and Rubin Colwill, who injected a new lease of life in Wales.
And the Nottingham Forest winger was on hand to calmly roll home Wales’ equaliser with five minutes remaining after a beautiful assist from Aaron Ramsey.
The linesman initially ruled the goal offside, but this time VAR was on Wales’ side, as Johnson was adjudged to be just onside.
The draw is a first point in the top tier of the Nations League for Wales, who suffered defeats by Poland and the Netherlands previously.
Wales started the brightest and thought they had taken the lead after five minutes.
Neco Williams’ cross to Joe Rodon eventually fell to Ampadu on the edge of the area, who hammered the ball into the top corner – only for VAR to correctly rule the goal out for offside.
Belgium threatened next, Leicester City midfielder Tielemans arrived late into the area after nice work by Thomas Meunier and Michy Batshuayi, but Hennessey clawed the effort away.
The frenetic pace with which the game started continued, Gareth Bale the next to go close when he turned Dan James’ low cross just around Koen Casteels’ post.
It took 25 minutes before the pace finally dropped, but Yannick Carrasco tested Hennessey with a first-time effort at the back post after Kevin de Bruyne’s cross sailed over everyone.
And it was the Atletico Madrid winger who was played in behind the Welsh defence by Tielemans minutes later, only for Ben Davies to recover and make a crucial block.
At the other end Connor Roberts headed Joe Allen’s cross over at the near post, the move proving to be the last involvement in the game for the midfielder who walked slowly down the tunnel, replaced by Ramsey.
Burnley full-back Roberts had Wales’ best chance of the first half minutes later.
An attempted clearance by Meunier ricocheted off the head of his own player straight to Roberts eight yards from goal in the centre of the box, but he never gained full control and eventually shot wide of the left upright.
Belgium really should have gone into the break ahead, as Leandro Trossard missed a chance the whole ground expected him to score.
De Bruyne found a huge pocket of space in midfield to drive into the Welsh half and played Batshuayi into the 18-yard box, but as is becoming a common theme in Welsh football matches, Davies was there to block the initial effort.
However, the rebound bounced across the box to an unmarked Trossard who had the whole goal to aim for, only to turn his effort wide of the left post.
The final chance of the half fell to De Bruyne, who caught everyone out with a long-range effort, but Hennessey got down smartly to turn the ball around his near post.
The warning signs were there in the first half, and as on Wednesday against the Netherlands, it took just five minutes for the visitors to open the scoring after the break.
A lovely move started down the Belgian right saw De Bruyne link up well with Trossard, the Brighton man fed Batshuayi and the Chelsea striker showed great composure to lay the ball off for Tielemans to strike into the bottom corner.
Belgium came close to doubling the lead minutes later when Carrasco’s deft touch almost turned the ball goal-bound, but instead it rolled agonisingly wide.
As they did against the Dutch, Wales responded well to going behind, Rodon found himself with a yard of space on the edge of the Belgian box, but blasted his effort high and wide.
The introduction of Nottingham Forest’s Johnson, in place of Bale, brought renewed energy to the Welsh attack, and the winger almost set up Ramsey for a tap in, but his cross was turned behind for a corner.
Johnson, James and substitute Colwill drove the hosts on in the final 15 minutes, backed by loud renditions of Wales’ adopted football anthem ‘Yma O Hyd’.
Wales almost levelled with six minutes left as Ramsey’s free-kick was floated perfectly for Joe Rodon, but the stooping Spurs defender could only head over.
Less than a minute later it looked like VAR could deny Wales once more.
Neco Williams and Colwill combined well in the middle of the field before the Liverpool wing-back played a through ball to Ramsey.
Ramsey looked like he’d lost possession but back-heeled the ball to Johnson, who calmly curled the ball in at the far post, a goal which stood after a lengthy VAR check.
Unlike on Wednesday night against the Netherlands, Wales held on to secure a first point in the top tier of the Nations League.
Wales manager Rob Page said: “We ended up with three 10s on the pitch trying to get the goal, and thankfully it worked.
“We’re a constant thorn in teams’ sides, we’ve proved that time and time again against world class opposition.
“There’s a lot of positives to come out of the game.”
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez said: “It was what we expected, very competitive, and a game where the crowd played a big part.
“But I’m very confused, I’ve seen the images [of the offside decision for Wales’ goal], I cannot explain how the goal is allowed to stand, he looks totally offside.
“When I look at the images, it does not look right, we need an explanation from the VAR committee on how it works because the lines are not parallel to the 18-yard box.”
- 6RodonBooked at 55mins
- 4DaviesSubstituted forColwillat 73′minutes
- 14RobertsSubstituted forNorrington-Daviesat 61′minutesBooked at 68mins
- 7AllenSubstituted forRamseyat 38′minutes
- 8WilsonSubstituted forBurnsat 73′minutes
- 3N Williams
- 11BaleSubstituted forJohnsonat 73′minutes
- 19M Harris
- 3TheateBooked at 61mins
- 6WitselSubstituted forOpendaat 90+3′minutes
- 11CarrascoBooked at 45minsSubstituted forT Hazardat 61′minutes
- 7De BruyneSubstituted forE Hazardat 72′minutes
- 17TrossardSubstituted forPraetat 72′minutes
- 10E Hazard
- 16T Hazard
- Benoît Bastien
Match ends, Wales 1, Belgium 1.
Second Half ends, Wales 1, Belgium 1.
Substitution, Belgium. Loïs Openda replaces Axel Witsel.
Offside, Belgium. Koen Casteels tries a through ball, but Michy Batshuayi is caught offside.
VAR Decision: Goal Wales 1-1 Belgium (Brennan Johnson).
Goal! Wales 1, Belgium 1. Brennan Johnson (Wales) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Aaron Ramsey.
Attempt missed. Joe Rodon (Wales) header from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Aaron Ramsey with a cross following a set piece situation.
Foul by Thorgan Hazard (Belgium).
Rubin Colwill (Wales) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Youri Tielemans (Belgium).
Aaron Ramsey (Wales) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Corner, Wales. Conceded by Dedryck Boyata.
Axel Witsel (Belgium) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Neco Williams (Wales).
Corner, Wales. Conceded by Dedryck Boyata.
Attempt blocked. Brennan Johnson (Wales) left footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Chris Mepham.
Substitution, Wales. Rubin Colwill replaces Ben Davies.
Substitution, Wales. Brennan Johnson replaces Gareth Bale.
Substitution, Wales. Wes Burns replaces Harry Wilson.
Substitution, Belgium. Eden Hazard replaces Kevin De Bruyne.