International

Eden Hazard double helps Belgium to victory; Mateo Kovacic collects 50th Croatia cap

There were goals and landmark caps for those in action on the international stage this evening as qualification for Euro 2020 got underway in earnest.

Eden Hazard played a part in all three goals for Belgium on his 99th appearance as the Red Devils kicked off qualifying with three points in Brussels. Youri Tielemans opened the scoring for the hosts inside the opening quarter of an hour but that advantage lasted just a couple of minutes before Denis Cheryshev levelled for Russia, capitalising on a mistake from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Michy Batshuayi started in attack alongside Hazard and almost restored the lead with seven minutes of the first half remaining, though the striker’s effort was thwarted with a clearance off the line. Hazard then took centre stage in added time before the break, bursting into the box from the right before drawing a foul from former Blues defender Yuri Zhirkov.

The resulting spot-kick was converted in typically confident fashion from the Belgian captain, slotted into the corner vacated by the goalkeeper’s dive to the right. The hosts failed to build on their lead in the second period, with Batshuayi striking against the post, before Hazard sealed the points with his 29th international goal, a left-footed finish swept in from close range in the 88th minute. Both Hazard and Batshuayi played the full game.

The Belgians travel to Cyprus on Sunday for their next assignment in qualification, with Hazard set to record a landmark 100th international appearance if selected.

In Zagreb, Croatia left it late to edge a tight encounter with Azerbaijan as Mateo Kovacic collected his 50th cap. The midfielder started alongside Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic for the 2018 World Cup finalists, who fell behind to Ramil Sheydaev’s 19th-minute opener via the underside of the crossbar.

However, Zlatko Dalic’s side came from behind to win after Rangers defender Borna Barisic poked in from close range and then Andrej Kramaric snatched a winner with a confident curling finish with 12 minutes remaining. Kovacic had been replaced five minutes earlier, while Mario Pasalic was an unused substitute. The Croatians now travel to Budapest to take on Hungary on Sunday

Elsewhere on the continent, there was an hour of friendly action for Andreas Christensen as Denmark continued preparations for the start of their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 2-2 draw against Kosovo. The 22-year-old played in the centre of a four-man defence for his 17th international cap, though it took a stoppage-time equaliser from Southampton’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to salvage the contest for the Danes.

Cristian Eriksen’s penalty cancelled out a first-half Kosovan opener, though it looked like a strike from Bersant Celina, currently playing with Swansea City in the Championship, would secure victory for the hosts until the late drama unfolded. Denmark begin qualifying away to Switzerland on Tuesday.

Ashton Gate in Bristol was the venue for England Under-21s, who lined up with Fikayo Tomori and Jay Dasilva in the back four against their counterparts from Poland. With the European Championships on the horizon in June, it was an opportunity for Aidy Boothroyd to prepare for the tournament with a testing contest against their fellow finalists.

The Young Lions led early on through Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin following good work down the left from Reiss Nelson, though a brilliant free-kick from Sebastian Szymanski ensured a share of the spoils in front of over 25,000 supporters. Jake Clarke-Salter was an unused substitute for Aidy Boothroyd, while Tammy Abraham was a late withdrawal from the match day squad. After the game, Tomori was handed the man-of-the-match award.

Trevoh Chalobah captained England Under-20s at St George’s Park as the youngsters continued their Elite League campaign against Poland, who started with Marcin Bulka in goal. Paul Simpson’s side suffered their second defeat of the season on home turf, going down 3-1, with Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah on the scoresheet for the hosts. Reece James was an unused substitute.

It was better news for England at the Under-17 age group as Steve Cooper’s side kicked off qualification for this summer’s European Championship finals with a thumping 5-2 win over Switzerland. Chelsea schoolboys Tino Livramento and Lewis Bate featured, the latter from the bench late on, while Myles Peart-Harris was among the subs.

Earlier today, George Nunn made his first appearance for Republic of Ireland in their Under-18s friendly defeat to Turkey. The striker started for Andy Reid’s side in Istanbul and was replaced at half-time with the Irish eventually beaten 4-0.

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