Group A round-up: Belgium in top spot after three-goal win in Serbia
GROUP A favourites Belgium took another step towards qualification for Rio 2014 last night with an ultimately convincing 3-0 win in Serbia – the side who hammered Wales 6-1 last time out.
The win sees them top the group with seven points from their three games so far, goal difference keeping them ahead of Croatia who won 2-1 in Macedonia.
The Macedonians, whose only point of the qualifying campaign so far came against Scotland at Hampden last month, are now the only side keeping Craig Levein’s men off the foot of the table.
In what was an entertaining game, Belgium took the lead against the run of play in the 34th minute thanks to a header by Christian Benteke, who got on the end of a teasing cross by Nacer Chadli.
Kevin De Bruyne doubled their lead in the 68th minute, beating goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic with a low shot before Everton’s Kevin Mirallas – who came on for De Bruyne – sealed victory with just two minutes left to play as he side-footed home a pinpoint Dries Mertens cross.
Belgium’s win could have been more convincing had substitute Eden Hazard not missed a one-on-one situation in the 52nd minute, and Mertens managed to put way a good opportunity six minutes after that.
The defeat leaves Serbia – who opened their campaign with a 0-0 draw at Hampden – sitting third in the group on four points, one ahead of fourth-placed Wales.
Their coach Sinisa Mihajlovic bemoaned his side’s failure to convert early chances, although he remained upbeat about their chances of qualifying from the group.
Mihajlovic said afterwards: “We were punished for the misses in the first half. But, there are seven more games to be played in the group and anything is still possible.”
Croatia kept on Belgium’s tails by coming from behind in Skopje.
Agim Ibraimi put the home side ahead with a header after 16 minutes, but after Croatia had missed two chances to equalise, Vedran Corluka did level matters in the 33rd minute when he met a cross from Ivan Rakitic.
Rakitic then earned Croatia all three points with just over an hour played when he found the net with a free-kick.
A delighted Croatia manager Igor Stimac said after the game: “In the beginning of the match we were not aggressive enough in clearing the ball and conceded a goal, but we did not lose our calm and we pulled off an excellent comeback.”
Croatia now host a rejuvenated Wales on Tuesday, with Chris Coleman’s side likely to have learned the harsh lessons of their last away trip and prove that they can build on last night’s dramatic late win over Scotland.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east