Meunier leads Belgium in 9-0 masterclass over Gibraltar
BRUSSELS (AP) — With a showtime performance orchestrated by Thomas Meunier against part-timers from Gibraltar, star-studded Belgium produced a 9-0 victory to bring next year’s World Cup finals ever closer.
PSG’s Meunier had three goals and three assists and Romelu Lukaku added three goals of his own in an overall demonstration of flicks, backheels and superior moves.
In the other Group H games, Estonia held Greece to a 0-0 draw and Cyprus edged Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-2 as Belgium was able to increase its lead to six points over second-placed Greece.
With three games left, Belgium has 19 points, Greece 13, Bosnia 11 and Cyprus 10. Estonia and Gibraltar are at the bottom of the group with 4 and 0 points, respectively.
WITSEL BICYCLE KICK
Belgium was shooting for a rare double-digit score until the final whistle but fell just short.
“10-0 is not is a score that gives you an extra point,” said coach Roberto Martinez. Still, Belgium widened its lead over Greece and looks a shoo-in for the finals in Russia.
Amid the pick of goals none was more enticing than Axel Witsel’s strike to make it 4-0 with a perfectly executed bicycle kick. Thirteen minutes later though he was off with a straight red card for a reckless tackle within his own half. It means he will miss the key qualifier in Athens against Greece.
“It is a player we are going to be missing on Sunday,” said Martinez. He will likely be replaced by Mousa Dembele.
With 10 men, and bringing in substitutes, Belgium took it easy in the second half, knowing its toughest test of the qualifying tournament will come Sunday.
It wasn’t like last year, when Christian Benteke scored the fastest goal ever in World Cup qualifying with a strike after 8.1 seconds.
This time it took 15 minutes before Dries Mertens sent a weak angled shot towards goal where Deren Ibrahim made a slapstick fumble and let the ball slip through his legs and just across the line.
Halfway through the match, Belgium had 25 attempts, Gibraltar none.
In the 82nd minute, Gibraltar also had a man sent off, Erin Barnett, for a penalty area foul, allowing Lukaku to get his third from the spot.
Eden Hazard, coming off an ankle injury which kept him sidelined for months, played for 77 minutes and scored on a flick close to goal.
“I was happy to feel the joy of playing again,” Hazard said.
GREECE HOLDS ON
A lackluster Greece was held to a scoreless draw to Estonia but just clung on to second position in Group H.
German coach Michael Skibbe knows Greece will have to perform a lot better in its forthcoming home encounter with Belgium.
“We need to win the match against Belgium to come closer to them,” he said.
Estonia defended strongly throughout Thursday’s dull match at the Karaiskakis Stadium.
“I’m really proud of my team the way they defended today,” Liverpool defender Ragnar Klavan said.
In perhaps the most exciting game of the group, Cyprus damaged the World Cup hopes of Bosnia-Herzegovina with a second-half comeback and three goals in 11 minutes for a 3-2 home win.
Bosnia seemed to have a lock on second place in the group by halftime after goals from Toni Sunjic and Edin Visca.
Yet it all unraveled between the 65th and 76th minute when captain Dimitris Christofi and Vincent Laban equaled the score before Pieros Sotiriou got the unlikely winner.
Now, Cyprus, Greece and Bosnia seem destined to fight it out for second place and a playoff place.
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