Eden Hazard’s late winner in a 1-0 victory over Cyprus spared Belgium’s blushes and all but confirmed their place at Euro 2016.
Hazard connected with a Dries Mertens cross to seal a win that puts his one point behind Wales, who would have secured qualification if Belgium had failed to win.
Marc Wilmots’ side, who beat Cyprus 5-0 in Brussels just six months earlier, showed little of the free-flowing football that their star-studded team is capable of, but their quality shined through with Hazard’s winner.
In a scrappy game that saw both sides waste good chances, it was Cyprus who impressed the most, holding the side ranked second in the world for much of the game.
The result puts a severe dent in Cyprus’ hopes of qualifying and they are now four points behind Israel with two games left to play, while Belgium need merely beat minnows Andorra next month to secure their spot in France.
In a lively opening to the game, Kevin De Bruyne had the ball in the net after six minutes when he pounced on Marouane Fellaini’s blocked shot and slid the ball past Antonis Georgallides, but the linesman’s flag was raised and the goal was ruled out for offside.
Christian Benteke should have done better with a chance two minutes later, when De Bruyne collected Hazard’s superb long ball and sent in a dangerous cross, but the Liverpool striker ballooned his shot high and wide.
A neat Radja Nainggolan one-two with De Bruyne allowed the Roma man to fire in a shot from the edge of the penalty area that was well saved by Georgallides.
Cyprus enjoyed a good spell of first half possession and a well-worked move ended with a Pieros Sotiriou backheel setting up Constantinos Makrides to beat his marker and shoot narrowly wide.
Marious Nicolaou then tested Thibaut Courtois with a low drive from 20 yards that the goalkeeper had to be at full stretch to save.
After a first-half performance that was lackadaisical at times, Belgium coach Wilmots sent on Divock Origi for the disappointing Benteke at half-time.
The visitors went on the attack immediately, with De Bruyne sending a wicked free-kick dipping towards the bottom corner of the net, but Georgallides got down well to palm it around the post.
Origi almost made a unwelcome impact when he slid in dangerously on Nicolaou in the penalty area and was fortunate not to foul the midfielder as the ball ran out for a corner.
Nainggolan then broke at the other end and hooked a shot just wide when he had De Bruyne in yards of space to his right.
As the second half progressed, the better of the shooting chances fell to Cyprus, but neither Makridis nor Soteriou managed to force Courtois to make a serious save as they blazed efforts over the bar.
Georgallides played his part at the other end, punching away a powerful 25-yard drive by Mertens, but his resolve was undone when the same player embarked on a mazy left-wing dribble before playing a perfect low cross that Hazard hammered home with aplomb to seal the win.
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