Paris – Romelu Lukaku’s 59th international goal was only enough for Belgium to secure a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying on Saturday, while Portugal blew a two-goal lead to be held by Serbia.
The Netherlands saw off Latvia 2-0 after their opening Group G defeat by Turkey, who backed up that performance with an impressive 3-0 victory over Norway.
Belgium, the world number one-ranked side, sit behind the Czech Republic on goal difference in the early Group E standings.
Lukas Provod put the Czechs ahead shortly after half-time in Prague with a magnificent long-range strike to score his first international goal.
But 10 minutes later, Lukaku collected Kevin De Bruyne’s pass, turned his marker and drilled the ball under home goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik to score for the 19th time in his last 16 games for Belgium.
Roberto Martinez’s men almost took the lead 14 minutes from time, but after Lukaku teed up De Bruyne, the Manchester City midfielder smashed a low shot against the post.
Portugal appeared to be cruising to victory in Belgrade when leading 2-0 at the interval through Liverpool winger Diogo Jota’s first-half double.
Nemanja Radonjic’s half-time introduction proved crucial for Serbia, though, as he set up Aleksandar Mitrovic and Filip Kostic to net in the first 15 minutes of the second period.
Portugal failed to hit back, with Cristiano Ronaldo left seven short of Iranian Ali Daei’s all-time record of 109 international goals after failing to score for a second straight match as it finished 2-2.
In the other Group A game, Luxembourg pulled off a shock 1-0 win over a lacklustre Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
Ireland were toothless in attack and the visitors made them pay in the 85th minute with Dynamo Kiev forward Gerson Rodrigues’s winner.
Netherlands bounce back
Frank de Boer’s Netherlands gave the 5,000 fans allowed to attend at the Johan Cruyff Arena something to cheer as Steven Berghuis’s 32nd-minute curling effort and Luuk de Jong’s second-half header saw off Latvia.
“We know that goal difference will be important in these qualifiers,” said De Boer, who also saw De Jong and Davy Klaassen hit the woodwork.
“We deserved to win with at least five goals. We tried everything.”
The Netherlands players followed in the footsteps of their group rivals Norway, and Germany, by protesting in support of human rights in Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup finals will be held.
The match was also the first World Cup qualifier to be refereed by a woman, as France’s Stephanie Frappart took charge.
The Netherlands failed to qualify for either Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup, but are among the title favourites for this year’s delayed Euro 2020.
Tufan, Soyuncu star for Turkey
Fenerbahce midfielder Ozan Tufan scored twice as Turkey beat a dangerous Norway side.
Leicester centre-back Caglar Soyuncu also enjoyed a fine performance as he netted the second goal and helped keep Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Braut Haaland quiet.
“Last year we’ve qualified for Euro 2020 and now we’re fighting for a spot in the World Cup,” Soyuncu told uefa.com. “We want to be there.”
Montenegro also have six points from two Group G outings after following their success against Latvia with a 4-1 home win over Gibraltar.
Russia, World Cup quarter-finalists on home soil three years ago, moved top of the early Group H table with a 2-1 victory over Slovenia, who had started their campaign by beating 2018 runners-up Croatia.
Artem Dzyuba’s first-half double proved enough for Russia in Sochi, despite Atalanta forward Josip Ilicic halving the deficit before half-time.
Croatia struggled to find their best form again, but Mario Pasalic’s header five minutes before the break helped Zlatko Dalic’s men edge out Cyprus 1-0 in Rijeka.
Slovakia are already struggling in their bid to qualify, after being held to a 2-2 home draw by Malta, who were pegged back from two goals up in their bid to secure only a third World Cup qualifying win in their history. — AFP