Belgium is close to qualifying for its fifth consecutive tournament after a bohemian match in front of 25,000 spectators. The Czech Republic, previously ranked as one of Belgium’s main competitors, was too small for the devil’s attack dance. Hans Vanaken, Eden Hazard and Jubilee Romelu Lukaku put our country on the road to Qatar 2022 in high heels.
Two days after Mundo Duplantis and Navi Thiam, a new star band invaded the plain of Heysel. With 21,416 spectators, King Baudouin Stadium was only half full, but the Red Devils treated every gift with an unforgettable evening of football. One in which Romelu Lukaku capped his 100th international cap with his 67th goal and 15 assists for Belgium, Eden Hazard regained his linked hips and Hans Vanaken provided his credentials for a permanent place in Roberto Martinez’s squad.
The Club Brugge playmaker was a surprise in the Belgians’ squad. In Estonia it was still the absentee stop for Yuri Tillmans. But with the Leicester City midfielder back between the lines, Roberto Martinez allowed Vanaken to stay. He got the spot from Leandro Trossard, at the back of Romelu Lukaku.
The surgery turned out to be a golden step. The hands of the Czech defenders were full with Bromelo Lukaku and gave the “pockets” Eden Hazard and Hans Vanaken plenty of space. Hazard played one of his best matches with the Red Devils since his move to Real Madrid. Quick movements, brief turns, keeping the men talking at sixteen and recording – the silhouette of an elusive captain.
But Hans Vanaken also excelled. With a calculated pass he put Romelu Lukaku on his way to 1-0 after eight minutes. The early lead put the Belgians in a bigger seat. To make matters worse, Czech goalkeeper Tomas Vaclic was replaced after an early collision with Jubilee.
Yuri Tillmans was also able to enjoy the attack due to the lack of pressure in the Czech midfield. Eden Hazard put him in the shooting position, but his shot missed the direction. Shortly before that, Hazard also sent for Lukaku, but he couldn’t keep his header low. Carrasco also got the ball, but he went for his luck.
Overall, Hazard made seven goals in the first half. That was more than all the other players – the Belgians and the Czechs – combined. With the best of those chances to score, Lukaku was able to hit the ball across the corner again, and substitute goalkeeper Stanek was saved.
In the end, Hazard himself took the 2-0 win, brilliantly played by Hans Vanaken. With three goals and four assists, Limburger suddenly became the man with the best offensive stats in picking Martinez. An achievement that would not remain without consequences if a final core team had to be formed at a later date.
In the second half, another Belgian star appeared. Thibaut Courtois, with his two world-class saves, kept two clean sheets. First when Mate Vydra (former Brugge club) was allowed to attack the Real Madrid goalkeeper alone, then when 19-year-old Adam Hluczyk was allowed to attack. At 29, Thibaut Courtois appears to be getting better.
Czech goalkeeper Stanek was also allowed to distinguish himself in an attempt by Lukaku. But only when Alexis Saelemaekers came in was another goal scored. The Milan winger is playing an increasingly offensive role in his club. Against the Czechs, he initially completed the better heels of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, before Lukaku sent an excellent cross.
Lukaku’s header went too far and when he again approached the goalkeeper on his own, he hit the post. Thus, his score in 100 matches remained at 67 – fully consistent with the schedule of two goals in three matches.
Lukaku and Vertonghen hung
Before being substituted, Lukaku got so yellow that, like Jan Vertonghen – yellow at the start of the match – he misses the unenviable trip to Kazan. In that Russian city, the Belgians will play Belarus on Wednesday.
If the Red Devils win there as well, the qualification can only be handed over to Qatar as an athlete. It will be their fifth consecutive participation in a major tournament. And then we don’t count until the fourth Nations League final in October.
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