Belgium v Wales: Tough World Cup qualifier likely to lead to opening defeat

Wales get their World Cup qualifying campaign underway with a tough trip to Belgium and Simon Mail thinks the visitors will struggle to avoid defeat...

Page faces huge challenge in opener

Wales face a huge test in their first World Cup qualifier as they travel to Belgium, the world's top ranked team. It will certainly be a tall order for caretaker boss Robert Page as Wales look to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Page remains in charge with Ryan Giggs still absent, due to his bail being extended to May after denying allegations of assault.

Their preparation for the rescheduled Euro 2020 this summer is well underway with Wales pitched in a group featuring Italy, Turkey and Switzerland. Wales, under Page's guidance, defeated Republic of Ireland and Finland in November to finish top of their Nations League group. Gareth Bale is likely to be involved, after featuring intermittently for Tottenham, but midfielder Aaron Ramsey misses out due to a thigh injury.

Belgium aiming to put down marker for Euro 2020

Belgium are one of the favourites for this summer's European Championships and Roberto Martinez has a group of world class players to spearhead their challenge. Belgium qualified for the Nations League finals after a 4-2 win over Denmark in November.

This was their fourth successive win and Belgium topped their Euro 2020 qualifying group with a perfect record of ten victories.

Their only defeat since November 2018 was a 2-1 loss to England in the Nations League last October. Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne is a huge threat for Belgium although Martinez could be without several key players. Eden Hazard is definitely out with an ankle injury but there are doubts over the availability of striker Romelu Lukaku due to Inter Milan's latest Covid-19 outbreak.

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Hard to bet against favourites Belgium

Belgium are 1.3 favourites for this qualifier and it is hard to take issue with this price. The hosts finished third in the last World Cup and did not drop any points in qualifying for Euro 2020 which shows the size of the task facing Wales. Belgium have great strength in depth and it would be a surprise if they dropped points in this opener.

Wales are 10.5 which will certainly interest some of their fans, especially considering their recent record against Belgium. Wales are unbeaten in their last four competitive clashes which includes their famous 3-1 quarter-final win at Euro 2016. That suggests the visitors are overpriced but whether they can topple this Belgium team, which has developed over the last five years, appears doubtful.

The draw can be backed at 5.5 and two of the last four games between the teams have ended level. Wales would be delighted to come away from Leuven with a draw but this still looks too much to expect. Belgium have been ruthless in qualifying matches and the hosts are backed to win although their odds in this market are unattractive.

Low-scoring Belgium win looks likely

Belgium are fancied to start with a victory but it will not be a walkover and a relatively low-scoring win is predicted. In Wales' last 22 matches, only one game has produced more than three goals. Four of their last five games have seen them keep a clean sheet with their defensive solidity capable of keeping this game competitive.

The last five clashes between Belgium and Wales have seen no more than four goals scored. Belgium's quality should tell over the course of the match but Page's side are unlikely to be blown away by their opponents. Backing the home side to win with under 3.5 goals increases the odds on a Belgium victory to a more appealing 10/11.

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