BELGIUM stayed on course for a first World Cup finals appearance in more than a decade after a nervous 2-0 win over a stubborn Macedonia in their Group A qualifier in Skopje last night.
Scorers: Belguim: De Bruyne (26), Hazard (pen 62)
A neat first-half strike by in-form Kevin De Bruyne and an Eden Hazard penalty just past the hour was the difference between the sides before Belgium host Macedonia on Tuesday.
Belgium, playing without injured captain Vincent Kompany, narrowly averted a disastrous start, with Macedonia striker Adis Jahovik’s header only kept out by the back of keeper Thibaut Courtois’s legs inside the first minute. Jahovik had another good chance two minutes later before the Belgians settled down to the task at hand.
De Bruyne steadied Belgium’s nerves in the 26th minute, dispossessing defender Aleksandar Lazevski and then feigning a pass before placing the ball into the far corner of the net. Buoyed by their lead, the visitors were more comfortable in the second half and doubled their advantage in the 62nd minute.
Hazard was brought down after playing a one-two with Marouane Fellaini and stepped up to score from the spot. Belgium coach Marc Wilmots was disappointed his defence left too much space and his midfield gave the ball away too often in the first half, telling reporters: “I was angry at half-time”.
Belgium stay top with 13 points ahead of Croatia on goal difference. The pair are well clear of group rivals Serbia, Macedonia, Wales and Scotland.
Macedonia: T Pacovski, Todorovski, Noveski,Grncarov,Lazevski, Demiri,Trickovski (Tasevski 81),Jahovic (Ivanovski 57),Pandev, Hasani (Trajkovski 81),Ibraimi.
Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Van Buyten, Witsel, Fellaini, Hazard, De Bruyne ,Dembele, Benteke (Chadli 85).