Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Belgium 1 Finland 1: Last-gasp Lukaku spares Wilmots´ blushes

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 1 Jun 2016

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Romelu Lukaku climbed off the bench to spare Belgium’s blushes and earn a last-gasp 1-1 draw with Finland at the King Baudouin Stadium on Wednesday.

Having scored in the 2-1 victory over Switzerland on Saturday, Lukaku was rested in Brussels, with Michy Batshuayi and Divock Origi handed starting berths in attack.

Marseille striker Batshuayi rattled the post with a first-half header, but Belgium went into the break level despite dominating the first half.

With the likes of Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Lombaerts out through injury, Marc Wilmots’ defensive concerns were added to when Kasper Hamalainen pounced on Thomas Vermaelen’s static positioning to guide the ball between the legs of Thibaut Courtois.

Keen to avoid defeat, the Belgium coach sent Lukaku on for Marouane Fellaini in the 79th minute and 10 minutes later he reached a loose ball first to chest home from inside the six-yard box.

Another substitute, Dries Mertens, came close to a stoppage-time winner, but Wilmots will be looking for a vastly improved performance when his team face Norway in their final warm-up friendly for Euro 2016 on Sunday.

Belgium started brightly, with Batshuayi seeing a shot deflected over before Kevin De Bruyne sent a curling strike wide from 20 yards in the 10th minute.

Wilmot’s team continued to dominate and Jan Vertonghen had a fierce 20-yard attempt from a set-piece kept out of the bottom corner by Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky midway through the half.

The tempo slowed as Finland sat deep, but a De Bruyne delivery created a further chance before the break when Fellaini rose highest with a header that was turned behind by Hradecky.

The hosts’ best opportunity of the half came five minutes ahead of the interval when Batshuayi connected with a cross from Toby Alderweireld, but his header came back off the upright.

Roman Eremenko fired a warning shot at Courtois early in the second half, but the Belgium goalkeeper was unable to stop Hamalainen from slotting the opening goal beneath him in the 53rd minute with Vermaelen caught ball watching.

Christian Benteke and Mertens were introduced by Wilmots as the hosts stepped up their attempts to find an equaliser.

Benteke headed wide after rising highest on the edge of the six-yard box to meet a cross from Vertonghen, and the striker then failed to steer De Bruyne’s cross into an open net with 11 minutes remaining.

However, the equaliser finally came in the 89th minute when Hradecky could only palm Mertens’ strike from the right up into the air, with substitute Lukaku first to react and supply the finishing touches.

The Finland goalkeeper produced a great save to deny Mertens in the 93rd minute as Belgium fell short of another come-from-behind win following on from their Switzerland fightback.

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