Belgium win third straight at Euro
ST PETERSBURG, Russia (AP):
Three straight wins, seven goals, and their top players with game time in their legs.
For Belgium, the group stage at the European Championship could hardly have gone better.
The world’s top-ranked team beat Finland 2-0 yesterday to finish in first place in Group B and join Italy and the Netherlands in qualifying with maximum points.
Finland finished in third place in their first appearance at a major tournament, nipped by Demark after their 4-1 victory over Russia in Copenhagen.
Finland, who would have finished in second place with a draw, fell behind in the 74th minute when a header from Thomas Vermaelen hit the post, rebounded on to the outstretched hand of Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky and went over the line.
Romelu Lukaku collected Kevin De Bruyne’s pass to score the other in the 81st for his third goal at Euro 2020.
Belgium will play one of the four third-place finishers in the round of 16 in Sevilla on Sunday.
The match in St Petersburg was billed as the biggest in Finland’s history by their coach, Markku Kanerva, and some of the team’s fans were in tears during the pregame national anthem.
A drummer in the section housing a throng of white-and-blue-clad Finland fans kept up the beat throughout the game, and there was a huge roar when the half-time whistle was blown, with their team coping fairly comfortably.
Belgium hadn’t pushed too hard by then, knowing a draw guaranteed first place, but Hradecky did have to be alert to tip aside shots by Jeremy Doku and Eden Hazard early in the second half.
Lukaku thought he had scored in the 65th minute when he collected a pass from De Bruyne and slotted home a finish from 10 metres. But it was ruled out after a video review by a marginal offside call.
A huge roar came from the Finland fans, many of whom threw bottles towards, but not on to, the field.
They were soon to be disappointed by the two goals Belgium scored.
Hazard, along with De Bruyne and Axel Witsel, made their first starts at the tournament after recent fitness issues.
Hazard and Witsel played the full game and De Bruyne was substituted in second-half stoppage time, during which period a woman ran on to the field of play before being quickly escorted away.
Yesterday’s Euro 2020 results:
Finland 0-2 Belgium
Russia 1-4 Denmark
North Macedonia 0-3 Netherlands
Ukraine 0-1 Austria