Depay triggers Dutch rout
AFP | Paris Mar 23: Eden Hazard ensured Belgium kicked off their qualifying campaign for Euro 2020 on Thursday with a brace in a home victory over Russia, while a Memphis Depay-inspired Netherlands romped to a 4-0 win over Belarus.
World Cup semi-finalists Belgium earned a battling 3-1 win over Russia in Brussels as Hazard struck twice for Roberto Martinez’s side in their opening game in Group I.
Youri Tielemans rounded off a flowing move with a crisp low strike to fire Belgium ahead on 14 minutes at the King Baudouin Stadium, but Thibaut Courtois gifted Russia an immediate equaliser.
The Real Madrid goalkeeper, put under pressure by Artem Dzyuba, panicked and scuffed the ball straight to Denis Cheryshev who duly swept home into an empty net.
Michy Batshuayi had a shot cleared off the line, and later hit the post, but Hazard restored Belgium’s lead just before half-time after drawing a foul from Yuri Zhirkov in the area.
The Chelsea playmaker sealed the three points two minutes from time with an alert finish, while Aleksandr Golovin was sent off for Russia just before the end.
Cyprus thrashed San Marino 5-0 to provisionally seize top spot in the group, while Scotland crashed to a humiliating 3-0 loss in Kazakhstan — a nation ranked 117th in the FIFA rankings.
Yuriy Pertsukh and Yan Vorogovskiy notched early goals for Kazakhstan before Baktiyor Zainutdinov’s terrific header extinguished any chance of Scotland recovering.
In Rotterdam, Memphis Depay dazzled for the Netherlands with a brace and two assists as they cruised past Belarus 4-0 despite having to play the final 20 minutes with 10 men.
Depay set the Dutch on their way just seconds into the match and slotted home a second-half penalty after setting up Georginio Wijnaldum for an simple second 21 minutes in, before crossing for Virgil van Dijk to nod in the fourth with his side down to 10 after final substitute Kenny Tete limped off with a hamstring injury.
Ronald Koeman’s exciting young side shoot straight to the top of Group C, level on three points with Northern Ireland, ahead of Sunday’s clash with Germany, who they knocked out of the Nations League the last time they met in November.
The Dutch have been a revelation since Koeman took charge in the wake of their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, beating both the Germans and world champions France to win their Nations League group and set up a semi-final clash with England in June.
PIATEK ON ROLL
Krzysztof Piatek continued his magnificent season with the only goal in a 1-0 win for Poland away to Austria in Group G.
The AC Milan forward, already with 19 goals in 27 Serie A appearances this term, has now scored twice in three outings for his country following his international debut in September.
World Cup runners-up Croatia, relegated from the top tier of the Nations League last year, ground out an unconvincing 2-1 victory against Azerbaijan in Zagreb.
Rami Sheydaev put Azerbaijan on top on 19 minutes before Croatia hit back through Borna Barisic and a 79th-minute effort by Andrej Kramaric in Group E.
Slovakia top the section on goal difference following a 2-0 defeat of Hungary in Trnava, as Ondrej Duda and Albert Rusnak scored for the hosts.