Coleman hails ‘leader’ Bale

Published: Sunday 16th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Wales manager Chris Coleman believes Gareth Bale embodies the spirit of a side still unbeaten in Euro 2016 qualifying after the Real Madrid forward produced a vital injury-time goal-line clearance in Brussels.

Group B favourites Belgium were unable to penetrate their organised and resilient visitors as Wales extended their unbeaten start in the section to four games with a hard-fought goalless draw at the King Baudouin Stadium.

Wales came under huge pressure at times against opponents ranked fourth in the world and Belgium defender Nicolas Lombaerts struck a post in the first half.

But Belgium looked as if they might find a way through in six minutes of stoppage time until Bale popped up in defence to clear a shot off the line.

“Baley’s won us games before and after the game all the questions are about him,” Coleman said.

“But when you need him at the other end of the pitch he’s saving one on his own line.

“He’s grown as a leader and that comes with being in stadiums and playing in front of 50-60,000 people.

“He’s used to that spotlight and pressure and it helps other players to stay calm in that situation.”

Bale only had infrequent sights of goal, twice testing Thibaut Courtois from free-kicks and firing narrowly wide in the second half, as Wales knew they would be pushed back by a Belgium side who had Eden Hazard pulling their creative strings.

Hazard was a constant source of danger throughout but Wales dug in to make it a return of eight points from four games and boost their chances of qualifying for a first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.

“If you look at the average of teams who qualify they get 1.8 points per game and we are on the right track,” Coleman said.

“We’re nearly halfway through the group now and we’re in there, it’s not a fluke after four games and we’ve played two of the best teams in Belgium and Bosnia.

“Belgium took us seriously and teams need to take us seriously because we are serious about qualifying in this campaign.

“We know the pressure is on us and the other teams will be chasing us down with six games to play.

“But we’re balanced and we know there’s a lot of hard work to be done.”

Wales will resume their campaign in Israel at the end of March and Coleman – who said he did not see the incident between Marouane Fellaini and Joe Allen which left his midfielder with a bloodied nose – admits that is a source of frustration after building up momentum in the last two months with wins over Andorra and Cyprus and draws against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Belgium.

“If I’m honest, if you come away from Belgium with a point you want another game in four or five days,” Coleman said.

“It’s a shame we’ve got to wait until March but we’ll enjoy this result.

“Belgium are a great team, they try to move you around and we knew we had to ride our luck a little bit.

“But we were stubborn and tried to stay in the game as long as we could. We were very courageous.

“We worked most of the week without the ball because we knew Belgium would have it more and we needed a good base.

“We were a lot better with the ball in the second half and could have created opportunities.

“But we didn’t want to come to Belgium and say we did really well and lost 1-0 or 2-0.

“You’ve got to come here and do something even though we were up against a very good team.

“I think 18 months ago we would have buckled in a game like that but we have grown as a team and have got a better understanding of the game at this level.”

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots felt his side had played well but good fortune had escaped them when they needed it.

“We had a lot of chances but we missed a bit of luck,” Wilmots said.

“Wales had good organisation and that was foreseen, Belgium played a good game but we could not score.

“They are a really good team with good individuals and it’s not a surprise to me that they play really well and are doing well in the group.

“But the difference between Belgium and Wales is that Wales plays with counter-attacks and Belgium leads the attack.”

Published: Sunday 16th November 2014 by The News Editor

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