Lukaku scores twice, Belgium reaches Nations League’s finals
LEUVEN, Belgium (AP) — Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium beat Denmark 4-2 on Wednesday to book a spot in the Nations League’s finals.
The world’s top-ranked team only needed a draw to qualify from the top tier’s Group 2. Belgium finished the group phase with a five-point lead over Denmark and England, joining France, Italy and Spain in next year’s Final Four.
Lukaku reached 57 goals for his country with two clinical finishes, while Youri Tielemans delivered yet another excellent performance rewarded by a goal. The Leicester midfielder also created his team’s second goal when Denmark threatened to pull ahead following Jonas Wind’s equalizer.
Lukaku’s two goals came in the second half before a blunder by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois three minutes from time gifted Denmark a second goal and maintained a bit of suspense until the end. Kevin De Bruyne completed the scoring on the counter in the 88th.
“It’s a relief we made it,” Tielemans said.
Playing in an empty stadium because of coronavirus restrictions, Tielemans broke the deadlock inside three minutes. Lukaku was dispossessed in the box but the Danes failed to clear the ball. Tielemans, who already scored from long range in a 2-0 win against England last week, latched onto it and fired a low shot from outside the area into the bottom right corner.
The Danes pressed high but lacked pace and could not find space. However, a flash of brilliance from Christian Eriksen brought them back in the match in the 18th minute after the Inter Milan player set up Martin Braithwaite with a long pass on the right side. The striker’s shot took a deflection and Wind headed home the rebound.
The goal injected confidence into Denmark and Braithwaite had another chance to score but lost his one-on-one with Courtois. The hosts responded with a header from Lukaku that landed inches wide near the half-hour mark.
The visitors came out after the break with plenty of energy and pinned their rivals back in their own half, but that bout of dominance did not last long.
Belgium reclaimed the lead in the 58th minute after Tielemans played a quick free kick for Kevin De Bruyne, who fed Lukaku on the right side of the box. The powerful forward’s effort took a deflection off Schmeichel and looped into the back of the net. Lukaku made it 3-1 with 20 minutes left with a header from Thorgan Hazard’s precise cross.
Courtois’ own goal came after he failed to control Nacer Chadli’s back pass but the mistake did not prove costly as De Bruyne made sure of the win with a shot into the far corner.
“In the second half we took control of the ball a lot better,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said. “This was a final, I felt as a team we have grown immensely, we won 4-2 against a very good side.”