PRAGUE (AP) — Romelu Lukaku extended his impressive scoring record with Belgium to salvage a 1-1 draw against Czech Republic in their World Cup qualifier on Saturday as FIFA’s top-ranked team was lucky to escape with a point.
Facing an inspired Czech team which hit the woodwork twice, Belgium struggled defensively and conceded early in the second half. Lukaku, Belgium’s all-time leading scorer, then took his tally to 59 goals in 91 international matches after Kevin De Bruyne’s brilliant assist.
Both Belgium and Czech Republic had won their opening games in Group E.
Playing without Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Meunier and Thorgan Hazard — who were not authorized to make the trip to Prague because of German quarantine rules — Belgium dominated possession in an entertaining first half but the hosts had the better chances.
The Czechs missed four Bundesliga players because of the virus restrictions in Germany, including their first-choice goalkeeper, but it did not show.
Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was forced into a first save in the 14th minute and forward Michael Krmencík came close a few minutes later as he cut inside past Jason Denayer and drove a precise left-footed shot only to find the woodwork. The visitors responded with a fine effort from Leander Dendoncker which was denied by Tomas Vaclík with a one-handed save.
The hosts deservedly took the lead in the 50th minute when Lukas Provod was given too much space near the area — with Dendoncker and Denayer both too slow to move forward — and he unleashed a long-range strike into the far corner.
Belgium was handed another blow soon after when Dries Mertens left the field injured. But the visitors came back into the game following an inspired contribution from De Bruyne. Close to the halfway line, the Manchester City playmaker sent a long ball between two Czech players to find Lukaku near the box. The Inter striker evaded his marker and found the net with a left-footed shot between Vaclik’s legs.
De Bruyne then missed the chance to give Belgium the lead when he hit the right post. The hosts continued to push until the very end and had two big chances before the final whistle — first with an effort from Jan Bořil that finished on the crossbar and then a goal-bound header from Tomas Soucek which was thwarted by defender Toby Alderweireld.
Earlier, Belarus twice came from behind to kick off its World Cup qualification campaign with a 4-2 win over 10-man Estonia, which slumped to a second consecutive loss following a 6-2 rout at the hands of the Czechs midweek.
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