Eden Hazard scored twice as Belgium recovered from a blunder by Thibaut Courtois to beat Russia 3-1 last night and start European Championship qualifying campaign on a high.
The 2018 World Cup semi-finalists took the lead in the 14th minute thanks to Youri Tielemans’ low strike from the edge of the area, but Courtois allowed Russia to level two minutes later.
The Real Madrid goalkeeper was caught in possession by Russia forward Artyom Dzyuba and hastily passed the ball straight to Denis Cheryshev, who rounded Courtois and scored.
Belgium’s pace and creativity strained the Russian defence and was rewarded when Hazard burst into the penalty area and was tripped by Yuri Zhirkov’s trailing leg. Hazard cooly converted the spot-kick.
As Russia pushed forward, Belgium took advantage of space at the back and Michy Batshuayi hit the post in the 79th. Hazard made it 3-1 from close range in the 88th.
Russia finished with 10 men when Monaco midfielder Alexander Golovin received a second yellow card for kicking out at an opponent. Elsewhere in Group I, Cyprus strolled to a 5-0 win over San Marino.
In Northern Ireland’s Group C, the Netherlands began their qualifying campaign with a resounding 4-0 win over Belarus in Rotterdam, with Memphis Depay playing a crucial role.
The hosts were always firm favourites and they had little difficulty living up to the expectations, as Depay led the way with two goals and a pair of assists.
Belarus looked doomed inside the first minute when Depay punished a defensive error to become the youngest player to reach 14 Netherlands goals since Patrick Kluivert, and he went on to set up Georginio Wijnaldum for their second in the 21st minute.
The Dutch showed no sign of letting their control slip after the break and Depay extended the lead from the penalty spot following the interval, before Virgil van Dijk wrapped things up as Ronald Koeman’s side cruised over the finish line.
The Netherlands host Germany in their next qualifier on Sunday while Belarus travel to Northern Ireland the same day.
Meanwhile in Group G, AC Milan striker Krzysztof Piatek scored a priceless goal as Poland won 1-0 over Austria in Vienna, following up to head home after goalkeeper Heinz Lindner parried a shot from Tomasz Kedziora.
In the group’s other games Eljif Elmas scored twice as North Macedonia beat Latvia 3-1 while Israel and Slovenia drew 1-1.
In Group E, World Cup runners-up Croatia laboured to a 2-1 victory over Azerbaijan in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier.
Ramil Sheydaev gave the visitors a shock 19th-minute lead in Zagreb, which was cancelled out by Rangers defender Borna Barisic a minute before half-time.
It looked like Croatia might have to settle for a draw but Andrej Kramaric found a winner 11 minutes from time.
Elsewhere in the group, Slovakia beat Hungary 2-0.