By Samindra Kunti in Brussels
November 20 – Belgium will be a top seed in the Euro 2024 draw after Romelu Lukaku’s four goals propelled his team to a routine 5-0 win against ten-man Azerbaijan in European qualifying.
Four first-half goals from the AS Roma striker as well as Leandro Trossard’s 90th-minute strike handed Belgium a victory that ensures the team will be seeded at the draw in Hamburg next month. Austria finished second in the group with 19 points, one less than Belgium.
Excelling in a near-perfect first half, Lukaku was on the scoresheet in the 17th, 26th, 30th and 37th minute to become the top scorer in qualifying with 14 goals, ahead of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo on ten and France’s Kylian Mbappé on nine. On Saturday, the PSG striker scored three times in France’s record-breaking 14-0 victory against Gibraltar.
In the 24th minute, Azerbaijan’s night was compounded when number 14 Eddy Istrafilov was sent off with a second booking, the sign for Lukaku to complete his hattrick with two more goals inside the half-hour mark. Without Lukaku, replaced by Lois Openda, Belgium struggled to add more goals to its tally in an academic second half, but on the stroke of full-time Trossard completed the 5-0 scoreline following another assist from Jeremy Doku.
It’s the fourth time in a row that Belgium have been unbeaten in qualifying for a major tournament, last losing a preliminary match against Wales in June 2015 en route to Euro 2016, confirming their reputation as kings of qualifying.
At the last European Championship, the Belgians crashed out in the quarter-finals against eventual champions Italy, a disappointing result that turned the Belgian public against Roberto Martinez who departed after the country’s first-round exit in Qatar. His successor Domenico Tedesco is counting on a new generation that includes Manchester City’s Doku and Everton’s Amadou Onana to impress at next year’s European championship.
Claiming top spot in Group F, the Belgians will avoid other European heavyweights, including France and Portugal, in the group stages in Germany.
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