Belgium took another big stride towards assuring their automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup with a routine 1-0 win over Belarus.
The Red Devils – ranked number one in the world – made it three wins from three in this batch of qualifiers to all but ensure their place at Qatar.
With 16 points to their name, Belgium need just one win from their remaining two fixtures to seal top spot in Group E, with Dennis Praet’s goal the difference on Wednesday.
Shorn of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium did not make the most of their dominance, yet Belarus never threatened a comeback.
Toby Alderweireld played in a cross De Bruyne would have been proud of from the right-hand channel in the 20th minute – the ball falling to Batshuayi, who dragged his attempt wide.
Batshuayi headed in the rebound from Dedryck Boyata’s effort against the crossbar soon after, only for the offside flag to cut short his celebrations.
Belgium had their lead two minutes later, however – Praet sweeping home across Sergey Chernik.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) September 8, 2021
Dodi Lukebakio stretched his legs early in the second half, though made a poor decision to shoot from the edge of the area rather than slide in Leandro Trossard.
Batshuayi’s search for a goal continued to prove fruitless as he saw an effort kept out by Chernik, Belgium missing the cutting edge to make the scoreline as comfortable as their performance warranted.
Artem Bykov tried to make them pay with a hopeful long-range attempt, but it never came close to testing Koen Casteels as Belgium eased to victory – Eden Hazard seeing a late free-kick saved well by Chernik at the other end.
What does it mean? Easy does it
It might not have been the rout it may well have turned into had Belgium had all their stars on show, but Roberto Martinez’s side were hardly threatened even if they did not get out of second gear against a team they trashed 8-0 in March.
Belgium sit on 16 points with two games remaining, meaning the second-placed Czech Republic can only match their tally, while third-placed Wales, who have two games in hand, would have to win all four of their remaining matches to usurp them.
Praet makes most of his chance
Afforded just his fifth international start, playmaker Praet – who left Leicester City to join Torino on loan last week – netted his second goal of qualification.
Indeed, his only other appearance and goal of Belgium’s Group E campaign came in the drubbing of Belarus earlier this year.
No player had more attempts (four) than Batshuayi, who managed to get two on target as Lukaku’s stand-in endured a frustrating night overall.
He showed great instincts to plant a diving header into the net on the rebound just before Praet netted the winner, but could not quite keep himself onside.
Belgium take part in the Nations League finals next month, with France their semi-final opponents. Belarus, meanwhile, continue their qualification campaign against neighbouring Estonia.
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