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Talking points as Wales look to extend impressive recent run against Belgium

Wales v Belgium – UEFA Euro 2016 – Quarter Final – Stade Pierre Mauroy
(Image credit: Joe Giddens)

Wales start their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign away to Belgium in Leuven on Wednesday.

There is plenty of history between the two sides and a few scores to settle.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the main talking points surrounding the Group E clash.

Will history count?

Wales v Belgium – UEFA Euro 2016 – Quarter Final – Stade Pierre Mauroy

Wales celebrated a famous victory over Belgium in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 (Joe Giddens/PA)

Belgium may be the number one team in the world according to the FIFA rankings, but the Red Devils’ recent record against Wales is pretty poor for a side of their calibre. Wales are unbeaten in their last four meetings, a run which dates back to October 2013 when a fresh-faced Dragons side held World Cup-bound Belgium 1-1 in Brussels. Wales also drew 0-0 in Brussels in November 2014 before Gareth Bale settled a Euro 2016 qualifier in Cardiff the following June. But Wales’ greatest triumph over Belgium came in their last encounter, a 3-1 Euro 2016 quarter-final victory in Lille.

Bale v De Bruyne

Soccer – UEFA Euro 2016 – Qualifying – Group B – Wales v Belgium – Cardiff City Stadium

Gareth Bale (left) and Kevin De Bruyne (right) will take centre stage again in another Wales-Belgium clash (David Davies/PA)

Two players will stand out at the modest Den Dreef Stadium, the 10,200-capacity home of Oud-Heverlee Leuven currently being used for international games by the Belgian Football Association amid the coronavirus pandemic. Bale has had a mixed season on his Tottenham loan return, scoring six goals in as many games in February and March but often finding himself on the bench under Jose Mourinho. If fitness has been a concern, his record against Belgium is not. De Bruyne, meanwhile, has been in imperious form for Manchester City and the midfielder provides the biggest danger to Welsh hopes of returning home unscathed.

Giggs absence looms large

Ryan Giggs file photo

Manager Ryan Giggs remains on leave for the start of Wales’ 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign (Adam Davy/PA)

Wales remain without manager Ryan Giggs, who denies assault allegations against him and has had his bail extended until May 1. Caretaker boss Robert Page took charge in November and oversaw Wales’ promotion to the top tier of the Nations League with wins over the Republic of Ireland and Finland. Page has declared it is “business as usual” and that Giggs will have an input via telephone for the World Cup friendlies against Belgium and the Czech Republic, as well as Saturday’s Cardiff friendly with Mexico. But it is an unsatisfactory situation for all concerned, not only at the start of a World Cup campaign but also with the delayed 2020 Euros less than three months away.

Lukaku decision for Belgium

Belgium v England – UEFA Nations League – League A – Group 2 – King Power Stadion At Den Dreefts

Inter Milan’s former Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is a prolific goalscorer for Belgium (Bruno FAHY via Belga/PA)

Romelu Lukaku’s availability could spell bad news for Wales. Lukaku is set to join up with the Belgium squad after testing negative for Covid-19 following an outbreak at his club Inter Milan. Inter initially prohibited players from leaving Italy to go on international duty and all football activity was shut down for four days. So will Belgium boss Roberto Martinez start Lukaku against Wales given his late arrival into camp? Wales might hope not. The former Manchester United striker has scored 30 times for club and country this season, and his 57 goals for Belgium is one more than the entire Wales squad’s international tally.

Safety net for Wales

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No-one will be surprised should Belgium make light work of a group that also includes the Czech Republic, Belarus and Estonia as well as Wales. The fight for second spot and a play-off place for Qatar 2022 is likely to be between the Czech Republic and Wales. But Wales are almost certainly guaranteed a play-off place following their success in the Nations League. That should take a certain amount of pressure off the Dragons as they attempt to reach their first World Cup finals since John Charles and company made the quarter-finals in 1958.