IMAGES from the Euro 2020 qualifiers played on Thursday
Captain Eden Hazard scored twice for Belgium to spare the blushes of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and secure a 3-1 victory over Russia in their Euro 2020 Group I qualifier at the King Baudouin Stadium on Thursday.
Courtois allowed Russia a soft equaliser after his error gifted a goal to Denis Cheryshev, but Belgium claimed a deserved victory when Youri Tielemans opened the scoring with his first international goal and Hazard added two more, one from the penalty spot.
Striker Michy Batshuayi was asked to lead the line in the absence of the injured Romelu Lukaku, while the Hazard brothers, Eden and Thorgan, played together for the third time in a national team shirt.
Belgium led on 15 minutes when Timothy Castagne’s pass fed Tielemans on the edge of the box and as Russia’s defensive line opened up, the midfielder fired a low shot past goalkeeper Guilherme Marinato.
But the lead lasted barely a minute as a horror error from Courtois gifted Cheryshev the equaliser.
The keeper dallied in possession following a back-pass and when pressed into action, passed the ball straight to Cheryshev on the edge of the box who finished into an empty net.
Batshuayi came close to restoring the lead when the Hazard brothers led a breakaway from a Russian corner and when the ball fell to the striker in the box, his shot beat Marinato but not defender Georgiy Dzhikiya on the goalline.
Belgium, World Cup semi-finalists last year, scored their second just before the break when Eden Hazard was fouled in the box by Yuri Zhirkov and stepped up to convert the spot-kick and give his side a 2-1 lead at halftime.
Batshuayi should have added a third for the home side when he was left unmarked and turned a low cross on to the post from eight yards out.
Skipper Hazard netted the third when he picked up the loose ball in the box after Batshuayi’s shot was blocked and the visitors finished the game with 10 following a late red card for Aleksandr Golovin.
Earlier, Cyprus stormed to the top of the Group I standings with a 5-0 victory over San Marino in Nicosia.
Striker Pieros Sotiriou converted two penalties to go with goals from Ioannis Kousoulos, Georgios Efrem and Konstantinos Laifis.
Kramaric nets late winner as Croatia beat Azerbaijan 2-1
Croatia were forced to dig deep as they came from behind to beat unfancied Azerbaijan 2-1 at home in their opening Euro 2020 Group E qualifier after forward Andrej Kramaric scored a 79th winner on Thursday.
In the group's other fixture, Slovakia eased to a 2-0 home win against Hungary thanks to midfielder Ondrej Duda's first-half opener and Albert Rusnak's 85th-minute goal in Trnava.
The Croatians dominated from the start at Maksimir stadium but the Azeris stunned the vocal home crowd when forward Ramil Sheydaev gave them a 19th-minute lead with a superb goal.
Sheydaev, who came close to scoring two minutes earlier, beat central defender Duje Caleta-Car with some neat footwork before drilling the ball past keeper Lovre Kalinic.
Croatia piled on the pressure and captain Luka Modric glanced a header just wide from a cross by Borna Barisic shortly before the left back levelled with his first international goal.
Caleta-Car saw his header from a corner cleared off the line by Dmitri Nazarov but Barisic was well placed to scramble home the equaliser from close range in the 44th.
It looked set to be a frustrating night for Croatia as Azeri keeper Salahat Agayev made a string of fine saves in the second half to deny Modric, Bruno Petkovic and Josip Brekalo.
Agayev also dealt with a flurry of crosses from either flank as the packed visiting defence came under relentless pressure but he could do nothing about Kramaric's sumptuous strike.
A ricochet off a defender fell kindly for the striker, who side-stepped his marker before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the far corner from 15 metres to delight the home fans.
On Sunday, Wales open their Group E campaign at home to Slovakia while Croatia visit Hungary.
Depay double leads Netherlands to easy win over Belarus
Memphis Depay scored two goals and set up two more as the Netherlands eased to a 4-0 victory over Belarus in their opening Euro 2020 Group C qualifier on Thursday.
Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk were also on target as the home side were rarely threatened and might have won by a greater margin, providing a welcome present for manager Ronald Koeman on his 56th birthday.
Depay, enduring a lean spell at club level, was at the heart of the Dutch attacking effort, taking his tally of goals to 10 in his last 14 internationals and cementing his place as the key attacker in the Netherlands’ revival under Koeman.
The home side were ahead inside 50 seconds as Igor Shitov’s risky back-pass was latched on to by Depay and his shot trickled into the net off the post.
Netherlands doubled their advantage in the 21st minute when Depay turned provider, flicking the ball into the path of Wijnaldum, who had the simplest of finishes from seven yards.
The hosts added to their tally on 55 minutes when Mikhail Sivakov clattered into Wijnaldum in the box for a clear penalty that was confidently converted by Depay.
The Dutch played the final 20 minutes down to 10 men after replacement right back Kenny Tete, their third substitute, pulled up with a hamstring injury after his first sprint about 20 seconds after coming on.
But even with the player short the home side managed a fourth in the final four minutes as Van Dijk finished after Depay’s set-up.
Netherlands can expect a much tougher assignment on Sunday when they host Germany in their next qualifier, another chance for Koeman’s side to underline their revival after failing to qualify for last year's World Cup in Russia.
In the other Group C game, Niall McGinn and Steven Davis (penalty) scored second-half goals as Northern Ireland ended a run of four-game winless run with a 2-0 victory over Estonia at WindsorPark.
Substitute Piatek gives Poland 1-0 win in Austria
Poland forward Krzysztof Piatek continued his prolific season by scoring 10 minutes after coming off the bench to secure a 1-0 win away to Austria in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier.
Israel were held 1-1 at home by Slovenia, while Macedonia beat Latvia 3-1 in the group's other two games.
Piatek's goal, the 23-year-old's second for his country, gave Poland coach Jerzy Brzeczek his first win at the seventh attempt since taking over following last year's World Cup.
Piatek, Serie A's second highest scorer this season with 19 goals for Genoa and then AC Milan, headed in after 69 minutes as the hosts paid for their poor finishing in the Group G game.
Poland had a huge let off near the end when they allowed Austria substitute Marc Janko a free header from Maximilian Woeber's cross but the veteran forward incredibly sent his effort wide from three metres.
The hosts had made a bright start as Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny parried Marcel Sabitzer's shot after eight minute and Marco Arnautovic scuffed his shot when Stefan Lainer's low cross found him free in the penalty area.
Austria goalkeeper Heinz Lindner made one first-half save, turning Kamil Grosicki's low drive past the post.
The home side's Valentino Lazaro shot wide and Arnautovic was centimetres away with a free kick as Austria continue to press forward but it was Poland who went ahead.
Austria failed to properly clear a corner and the ball fell to Tomasz Kedziora whose strike was parried by Lindner but fell to Piatek who headed home.
Piatek should have added another goal minutes later when he was sent clear by Robert Lewandowski but he fired wide. After Janko's extraordinary miss, Szczesny also came to the rescue with an excellent save from David Alaba.
Slovenia's Andraz Sporar beat two defenders to poke the ball home and give his side the lead three minutes after halftime in Haifa but Ervan Zahavi levelled from a corner in the 55th to extend the visitors' winless run to nine competitive games.
Ezgjan Alioski gave Macedonia, which last month was renamed North Macedonia, an 11th minute lead after being set up by veteran Goran Pandev, who was also involved as Eljif Elmas added a second goal before halftime.
Macedonia's Darko Velkoski put through his own goal with three minutes left but Latvia then had Andrejs Ciganiks sent off for a second bookable offence and Elmas grabbed his second of the night with a clever chip in the last minute.
The next round of games on Sunday sees Austria travel to Israel, Macedonia visiting Slovenia and Poland hosting Latvia.
Kazakhstan thrash Scotland to launch Euro 2020 campaign
Lowly-ranked Kazakhstan began their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by thrashing Scotland 3-0 in a raucous atmosphere inside the Astana Arena on Thursday.
Scotland were blown away inside the opening 10 minutes of the Group I clash as Yuriy Pertsukh and Yan Vorogovskiy both finished in style to put the hosts in control.
There was no way back for a disappointing Scotland side when Baktiyar Zainutdinov's header made it 3-0 in the 50th minute.
Kazakhstan, 117th in the FIFA rankings, looked dangerous every time they attacked on the slick artificial surface and Scotland managed only two attempts on target on a night to forget for them.
"It was disappointing not to see a great reaction (to going 2-0 down)," Scotland boss Alex McLeish said.
"At halftime we tried to change the system a little to unsettle Kazakhstan. They were first to the second balls and, after a good start, we just didn't get up to speed.
"Unfortunately, the Kazakhs were a team on fire tonight."
With Belgium expected to cruise the group and Russia also strong, Scotland's hopes of automatic qualification already look forlorn, although they are guaranteed a place in the playoffs after topping their Nations League group.
It was all too easy for the Kakakhs as a simple ball forward split the Scotland defence in the sixth minute and Pertsukh took a touch before driving high past keeper Scott Bain.
Scotland barely had time to compose themselves before their defence again went missing to allow Vorogovskiy to slide home from Islambek Kuat's superb pass.
Kazakhstan failed to win any of their 10 games in the qualifying campaign for the World Cup finals but could celebrate one of their greatest nights when Zinutdinov headed home.
Scotland take on San Marino at the weekend while the buoyant Kazakhs host Russia.