Belgium visited Russia knowing a victory will guarantee them a top position in their Euro 2020 qualifying group. They did not disappoint.
Belgium sealed top spot in Group I of the qualifiers for Euro 2020. The club thrashed Russia 4-1 at the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg on Saturday.
Eden Hazard scored twice and made an assisted goal for his brother Thorgan. Romelu Lukaku added another in the second half before Georgi Dzhikiya got one back for the thoroughly outplayed hosts who have already qualified.
Belgium’s outstanding display means Roberto Martinez can rest players for the final group game on Tuesday.
Russia did most of the early pressing. However, they found a well-drilled Belgium tough to beat. Vissel Kobe veteran Thomas Vermaelen was an active presence. The 34-year-old times his tackles making more than one crucial block.
Vermaelen’s efforts were aided by Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld. The center-back was a figure of authority and was able to build moves from the back.
Alderweireld kept the lines of supply to Manchester City playmaker, Kevin De Bruyne and Real Madrid winger, Eden Hazard open with the latter feeding his brother for the opener.
Lesser, known than brother Eden, the Borussia Dortmund winger showed similar skills to cut in from the left and thunder and emphatic shot past Marinato Guilherme in the Russia goal.
Belgium did not hesitate to show more quality in the final third. Eden Hazard was the next to go close by drawing Guilherme into a smart save at the near post.
However, it didn’t take the classy No.10 long to go one better.
He soon met Lukaku’s deft header down with a terrific half-volley.
Belgium’s superiority was now painfully obvious. Hazard doubled his tally five minutes before the break with a better goal. Once again, the movement relied on Lukaku’s ability to hold the ball up with his smart layoff finding Timothy Castagne who volleyed a superb through ball into the path of De Bruyne.
The latter waited until the perfect moment to tee up Hazard for a tap-in.
Martinez snubbed Leicester City’s schemer, Youri Tielemans for Napoli forward, Dries Mertens. But Belgium lost none of their flair going forward.
The fourth goal duly arrived thanks to De Bruyne’s vision who played Lukaku and thereafter gliding from the right to place an accurate left-footed finish into the bottom corner.
This marked Lukaku’s 51st goal for his country as well as one more reminder of the enviable attacking talent at Martinez’s disposal.
While he reveled in the performance of his match-winners in the final third, Martinez would have annoyed his team and would not have preserved a clean sheet. Instead, Dzhikiya pounced 11 minutes from time to net a consolation for the hosts.
Russia’s lone goal was the end of scoring on a night when Belgium laid down a marker about their ability to be in the final reckoning when the tournament reaches its conclusion next summer.