Belgium beats Andorra 6-0 in confident Euro start
BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium held target practice for a 6-0 victory over tiny Andorra on Friday to give the Group B favorite a confident start to its European Championship qualifying campaign.
Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens scored two goals each and Divock Origi and Nacer Chadli added the rest to give the victory a special World Cup flavor since most of the scorers were instrumental in getting Belgium to the quarterfinals in Brazil this summer.
Israel also had a successful start, beating Cyprus in Nicosia 2-1. Wales took the group lead by one point over Cyprus, Israel and Belgium after holding Bosnia-Herzegovina to a 0-0 draw in Cardiff in its second game.
But with its constant pressure and free-flowing moves, Belgium showed it will be the team to beat in the group.
“That was fun. A beautiful victory,” said De Bruyne after Belgium scored as many goals in one game as during the whole World Cup.
The easy victory came without playmaker Eden Hazard, who was protectively kept on the bench with a stubbed toe. Another Chelsea star, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, was on the pitch for the whole game despite suffering a head injury in a collision against Arsenal last weekend. He did not have to make a save.
Belgium pushed forward from the start against the tiny Pyrenean nation ranked 203rd in the world, but was frustrated early on when it hit the woodwork three times before De Bruyne opened the score on a penalty in the 31st minute.
Belgium ran amok for the next 37 minutes to run up the score to six to the delight to the sellout crowd of 50,000 at the King Baudouin Stadium.
“It was a packed house, so we had better perform,” De Bruyne said.
Next up for Belgium is a game in Bosnia next Monday. Its opening game against Israel was postponed last month.
Wales was hoping to get past Bosnia on Friday to take command of the group, but needed to rely on a staunch defense to move into a narrow lead. At the other end, a late right-footed drive from Real Madrid star Gareth was well saved by Asmir Begovic.
In Nicosia, Omer Damari and Tal Ben Haim gave Israel a strong position by halftime but still struggled toward the end after Konstantinos Makridis got Cyprus back into the game with 23 minutes to go.
Raf Casert can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert