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Late Ramsey goal tempers Belgium celebrations

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium ended their campaign on a muted note on Tuesday as a late strike by Aaron Ramsey secured a 1-1 draw for Wales, slightly dampening home celebrations to mark the country's qualification for a first World Cup in 12 years.

Having already booked their ticket to Brazil with Friday's 2-1 win in Croatia, the Group A winners threatened only sporadically for the first hour against a well-organized Welsh defense.

It took until the 64th minute for Kevin De Bruyne to break the deadlock, latching on to a pass from Romelu Lukaku and drilling the ball into the far left corner.

Belgium had chances to increase their lead through Kevin Mirallas and Lukaku, but with two minutes left, Ramsey, in prolific scoring form for Arsenal in the Premier League this season, took a pass from Craig Bellamy to prod beyond Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois.

That did not stop Belgium doing a lap of honor for their fans before a firework display.

"We had 12 chances, they had two. Of course there's a little bit of disappointment, but looking at the campaign as a whole, it's great," Belgium coach Marc Wilmots told a news conference after his side ended their campaign undefeated.

The match, attended by Belgian King Philip and with a concert at halftime, was virtually sterile for the first 35 minutes, with just a single shot on goal from Lukaku.

The game sprang into life in the final minutes before the break as Belgium laid siege to the Wales penalty area with Toby Alderweireld striking the crossbar.

Wales, with Bellamy playing his final international, pressed slightly further forward before Belgium brought on midfielder Eden Hazard to add extra bite to their attack.

Tuesday's draw should keep Belgium in sixth spot in FIFA's world rankings, meaning they will go to the World Cup as one of the eight seeded teams and see them avoid big guns such as hosts Brazil and world champions Spain.

Belgium were ranked 53rd in the world when qualification began last September.

Lukaku said he believed the current squad could go far in Brazil.

"It's a question of preparing well and allowing the players to develop well in the meantime because there's still eight months to go. If you go to the World Cup you have to be full of confidence on the pitch and not be too humble," he said.

Wales finished the campaign with only Macedonia below them in the six-team group, but a bit of history was made on Tuesday when late substitute Harry Wilson became the country's youngest player at 16 years and 207 days.

The Liverpool Academy midfielder beat the world's most expensive player Gareth Bale's record by 108 days.

Missing Bale and seven other injured players, Wales coach Chris Coleman acknowledged that Belgian could have scored more, but was proud of his team's efforts.

Victory over Macedonia on Friday and Tuesday's point in Brussels could ensure he remains in his post.

"I believe these players will be a good bunch," he said, turning his thoughts to the next qualifying phase for Euro 2016. "But we can't be chasing. We've got to hit the ground running."

(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Justin Palmer and Stephen Wood)

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