Belgium sealed first place in Group B as second-half goals from Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard gave them a 3-1 Euro 2016 qualifying victory over Israel in Brussels on Tuesday.
Eran Zahavi had hit the post for the visitors with a well-struck free-kick in the first half, while Mertens had missed an awful open goal.
Mertens made amends with a low finish to open the scoring after 64 minutes, before a De Bruyne free-kick and a simple Hazard finish wrapped up a dominant display after the break, with a consolation goal from Israel’s Tomer Hemed arriving far too late.
The victory means Belgium beat Wales to top spot in the group, while Israel miss out on a play-off place to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Radja Nainggolan tried his luck from long-range early on and was not too far away from Ofir Marciano’s top corner. The hosts threatened again when De Bruyne made good ground down the left and sent in a low cross, but Romelu Lukaku could not quite convert from a tight angle at the second attempt.
It was Israel who came even closer to finding the first goal, though. After Tal Ben Haim II had been fouled by Nainggolan, captain Zahavi struck a brilliant free-kick which bounced away off the post.
Belgium responded quickly and would have gone ahead if not for Mertens’ shocking miss. The lively De Bruyne found space on the right this time and another low cross took the keeper and the away defence out of the game, but the Napoli attacker was unable to roll into an empty net at the far post.
Vincent Kompany – controversially selected after Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini said prior to the international break he should not play while he recovered from a calf injury – almost marked his return with a goal, as his impressive shot from the edge of the box drifted just over.
Lukaku threatened early in the second half but was off target again after rounding Marciano having latched on to a Hazard throughball, before Kompany headed a De Bruyne corner straight at the keeper.
But on 64 minutes, the breakthrough did arrive. De Bruyne found Mertens in the penalty area and the 28-year-old worked half a yard of space from Tal Ben Haim and beat Marciano at his near post.
Belgium made it two with 12 minutes left on the clock. After Nainggolan had been fouled 25 yards from goal, De Bruyne’s bouncing free-kick found the bottom corner, although Marciano should have done better having got two hands to it.
Hazard then forced Marciano into a low save before De Bruyne had a left-footed drive pushed past the post as the home side dominated the closing stages.
The third goal was coming and it arrived after a slick passing move. Mertens found Hazard in oceans of space inside the box and the Chelsea star slotted a simple finish past Marciano for his sixth goal in his last eight internationals.
Israel did get a late consolation in the 88th minute, with Zahavi’s inswinging cross powerfully headed home by Hemed, but the visitors were well beaten as Belgium eased their way to next year’s finals in France.