Kevin De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi gave Belgium their first victory as the world’s top-ranked nation with a late strike to secure a 3-1 win over Italy in Brussels.
Manchester City’s De Bruyne struck with 16 minutes to play on Friday before Marseille man Batshuayi sealed the win late on to extend Belgium’s unbeaten record at home to 11 games, a run that stretches back two years.
Their record was in danger at times against Italy though, especially when Antonio Candreva opened the scoring after just three minutes.
Jan Vertonghen quickly restored parity with a well-placed header before both sides wasted a plethora of chances prior to De Bruyne’s strike.
Substitute Batshuayi added gloss to the result in the closing 10 minutes as Belgium celebrated becoming world number one with an impressive win.
Italy settled quickly in Brussels and opened the scoring in the third minute through the alert Candreva.
Simon Mignolet made a superb one-handed save to deny Graziano Pelle’s low shot, but the Liverpool goalkeeper was unable to hold onto the ball and Candreva pounced from close range.
The Lazio midfielder could have had a second in the 10th minute after skipping past Luis Cavanda, but his powerful effort from a tight angle was superbly tipped over by Mignolet.
Belgium made him pay for that miss three minutes later as they finally posed a threat, Vertonghen heading home De Bruyne’s corner having escaped the attentions of Giorgio Chiellini.
A ferocious start eventually calmed down as strong challenges from both sides disrupted the flow of the game – Eder, Chiellini and Vertonghen all going into the book before the break.
And the match came to a stand-still altogether six minutes before half-time as the players and coaching staff joined applause from the stands to pay tribute to the 39 Juventus supporters who lost their lives in the Heysel disaster in 1985.
Six minutes after the restart Axel Witsel should have done better from 12 yards, the Zenit midfielder skewing his volley wide after De Bruyne’s shot had been blocked.
Having survived that scare Italy went close to retaking the lead as Eder met a through-ball from substitute Roberto Soriano, his initial shot hit the crossbar but the Sampdoria ace was unable to turn in the rebound.
Substitute Batshuayi was immediately involved after coming on as his powerful shot was well saved by Gianluigi Buffon, but the ball bounced to De Bruyne who fired into the ground to send the ball looping over the Juventus goalkeeper.
Mignolet then produced a stunning save to deny Pelle before Batshuayi rounded off the win as he beat Buffon at his near post.
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