Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Greece 1 Belgium 2: Vertonghen and Lukaku secure World Cup spot

Belgium got the better of a whirlwind five-minute spell to beat Greece 2-1 and confirm their place at the 2018 World Cup.

Roberto Martinez’s men would have been all-but qualified for Russia with a draw, but goals from Jan Vertonghen and Romelu Lukaku rubber-stamped their progression – making them the first European team to book their spot at the tournament.

Belgium had dominated the game for little reward until the 70th minute when Vertonghen smashed home from long-range.

Zeca volleyed in as a shaky visiting defence went to sleep, but Lukaku popped up less than two minutes later to secure the points in Piraeus.

Defeat for Greece sees them lose second place to Bosnia-Herzegovina, who beat Gibraltar, but Martinez’s men may afford their beaten opponents a favour when they face the Bosnians next time out.

Come the tournament next year, Martinez may use this game as a template for beating stubborn, defensive sides, with his players having hogged possession in threatening territory for large parts of the first half, only to see the hosts go closest to breaking the deadlock.

Anastasios Donis drove straight through the heart of Belgium’s defence from inside his own half before forcing a save from Thibaut Courtois, who was a spectator as Kostas Stafylidis whipped a 25-yard effort off the right-hand post to great encouragement from the stands.

Vertonghen almost turned Giannis Maniatis’ cross into his own net and his tame 30-yarder soon after at the other end was Belgium’s first shot of the match midway through the opening period, summing up their stodgy attacking play.

The Tottenham defender almost opened things up for Kostas Fortounis with an unconvincing defensive header, but Courtois was on hand to scoop the ball away from the Olympiacos playmaker’s feet in the nick of time.

Once again Vertonghen was in the thick of the action, bringing a soporific second half to life when he advanced from his defensive position and thumped a dipping effort beyond the reach of Orestis Karnezis.

The defensive uncertainty that had simmered in Belgium’s ranks spilled over just three minutes later when Atletico Madrid attacker Yannick Carrasco looked every inch a makeshift wing-back as he watched Zeca run onto Georgios Tzavellas’ cross and volley home.

Lukaku silenced the home crowd almost immediately, though, as Thomas Meunier’s cross from the right picked out the Manchester United striker to nod across Karnezis and in.

Dries Mertens wasted a late chance to make sure of the win, but it mattered little and Martinez can now begin preparations in earnest as this gilded group of Belgian players look to make their mark on the global stage.

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