Roberto Martinez’ Belgium became the first side to confirm their qualification for next year’s European Championships after a 9-0 thrashing of minnows San Marino on Thursday evening.
With a perfect record of seven wins from seven and only one goal conceded, Belgium will now be looking to cement first place in Group I.
They have qualified ahead of Russia, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Scotland and San Marino, with Russia just one result away from following Belgium to Euro 2020. With the game held in Brussels’ King Baudouin Stadium, the scoring was opened just before the half-hour mark by Romelu Lukaku, who notched his 50th senior international goal on his 83rd appearance.
Lukaku added a second before half-time, but not before Nacer Chadli and a Cristian Brolli’s own goal had made the result safe. A second own goal from Andrea Grandoni and a stoppage-time strike from Youri Tielemans left Belgium with a healthy 6-0 lead at the interval.
Christian Benteke added a seventh with ten minutes to play before Yari Verschaeren made it eight from the spot and Timothy Castagne scored in stoppage time. With next summer’s tournament set to take place all around the continent, Belgium may well be targeting Euro 2020 as the best chance for their current golden generation to win a major international title.
They were beaten by France at the semi-final stage of last year’s World Cup in Russia and were shocked in the quarter-finals by Wales at Euro 2016. By the time the Euros kick-off, Lukaku will be 27, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois all 29 and Dries Mertens 33. While the likes of Verschaeren, Youri Tielemans, and Jens Teunckens will be hoping to take their places in the years to come, this is likely to be the best opportunity for what is undoubtedly the most talented generation of footballers Belgium has ever produced.
Russia, meanwhile, had also been hoping to confirm their qualification on the same night but were made to wait after third-placed Cyprus scored two late goals to claim a 2-1 win away to Kazakhstan. Spain and Italy look well-placed to seal their qualification sooner rather than later, with both sides having won all six of their qualifying games so far.
Credit: Vanguard News