Fresh from an enthralling seven-goal encounter with Estonia, Belgium resume World Cup 2022 Qualifying action on Sunday when they welcome the Czech Republic to the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.
Roberto Martinez’s men humbled Estonia 5-2 in their midweek battle, while the Czechs could only muster a one-goal victory over Belarus.
Estonia goal-getter Mattias Kait shocked the continent when he broke the deadlock against Belgium with barely two minutes played, but the floodgates would open thereafter as Hans Vanaken and Romelu Lukaku gave the Red Devils a 2-1 advantage before half time on Thursday.
Lukaku’s second of the game preceded strikes from Axel Witsel and substitute Thomas Foket in the second 45 minutes, and while Estonia’s Erik Sorga came off the bench to net a memorable goal, the world’s top-ranked nation ultimately prevailed comfortably.
After yet another underwhelming performance at a major tournament, Belgium made a statement of intent straight away and have retained their three-point lead atop the standings in World Cup Qualifying Group E following previous wins over Wales and Belarus.
No UEFA team can better the 17 goals that Belgium have struck in qualification, but conceding twice to Estonia – a team ranked 109 places below them in the FIFA World Rankings – may concern Martinez somewhat.
However, Belgium’s astonishing home record is there for all to see ahead of Sunday’s game, as the Red Devils have embarked on a 29-game unbeaten run on familiar territory since a 2-0 friendly defeat to Spain in September 2016, although their visitors are daring to dream.
After catching the eye at Euro 2020 en route to the quarter-finals, the Czech Republic are now seeking to book their place in the World Cup Finals for the first time since 2006, and there is cautious optimism that Jaroslav Silhavy’s side can fulfil the nation’s expectations.
Like Belgium, the Czechs also conceded twice against Estonia but ran out 6-2 winners in March, while a 1-1 draw with the Red Devils and a 1-0 defeat to Wales represented a mixed bag of results before their European Championship exploits.
Silhavy’s side may have expected a greater margin of victory over Belarus on Thursday night, but Antonin Barak’s 34th-minute strike was all that separated the two sides on the night as the Czech Republic cemented their second-placed standing in the group.
However, Wales sit just four points behind with two games in hand, so the importance of a faultless Qualifying campaign from here on in cannot be understated, but four of their last five away encounters in all tournaments have ended in defeat.
Lukaku and Lukas Provod both netted when the two sides drew 1-1 back in March, and Belgium have only managed to prevail in one of their last four encounters with the Czech Republic – a 2-1 friendly win in June 2017 thanks to goals from Michy Batshuayi and Marouane Fellaini.
Belgium World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Belgium form (all competitions):
Czech Republic World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Czech Republic form (all competitions):
We say: Belgium 2-1 Czech Republic
The Czech Republic command respect from the world’s top-ranked nation, even if their narrow success over Belarus did leave a lot to be desired.
The hosts cannot expect another five or eight-goal showing in Qualifying this weekend, but Martinez’s side should still get over the line and extend their lead at the summit.