22nd March, 2019
Eden Hazard was the star performer once again as he propelled Belgium to a 3-1 win over Russia as his country opened their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign on a successful note.
The game started on a bright note for Belgium as they took the lead after 14 minutes through Youri Tielemans’ powerful, low finish.
This was however short-lived as Courtois gifted Denis Cheryshev an equaliser soon after, with his blushes spared as former Chelsea team-mate Eden Hazard’s penalty on the stroke of half-time once again restored their advantage.
The same player then doubled his tally in the 88th minute to settle the Group I contest in Belgium’s favour before Aleksandr Golovin got the marching order for a second yellow card.
Once again, the counter-attacking football that was a clear feature of Belgium’s World Cup campaign proved key in opening the score sheet as Michy Batshuayi crossed from the left for Timothy Castagne, who laid off for Tielemans to rifle into the bottom-left corner.
But then, just under two minutes later Russia scored the equaliser in a bizarre fashion as Courtois in goal for Belgium, committed a howler.
The Real Madrid goalkeeper received Jan Vertonghen’s backpass under no pressure but took too many touches and, being closed down by Artem Dzyuba, played the ball straight to Cheryshev, the Valencia winger making no mistake in skipping over Courtois and converting from a tight angle.
Thereafter, Batshuayi saw an effort cleared off the line as Belgium sought to restore their advantage, which Hazard did with a confident finish from the penalty spot after he was clumsily brought down by Yuri Zhirkov.
Batshuayi was later on denied a deserved goal by the goal post 12 minutes from time but he was then involved as Hazard made it 3-1, teeing up his team-mate to fire in following Dries Mertens’ right-wing cross.
Russia’s Golovin’s got the marching ordr two minutes later, as he ended a poor night with a second yellow after kicking out at Mertens.
Belgium could have had a better result on the night as they were not really stretched by the Russians in this game. They were not at their best but, against a Russia side that looked a far cry from the team that reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup last year, they did not need to be.
At the onset of the match, it looked as if Russia may provide Belgium with a difficult evening after Courtois’ mistake. The visitors were poised to go in to half-time level but Hazard had other plans, winning a penalty with a turn in the box that drew a panicky Zhirkov challenge and converting it with real ease. His finish for the third was just as assured and put the game beyond any doubt.
On a sad note for Belgium, Coutois was just not as solid in goal as he used to be. Side-lined for Zinedine Zidane’s return to the Madrid dugout last weekend, the goal keeper did not inspire confidence with his 16th-minute howler. For a keeper considered one of the best in the world, this was a startling loss of composure.