Romelu Lukaku marked his 100th cap with an early goal to put Belgium on their way to an impressive 3-0 win over the Czech Republic in their World Cup qualifier in Brussels on Sunday.
It was Lukaku’s 67th goal for his country and came after eight minutes, followed four minutes before half time by a second from captain Eden Hazard.
Substitute Alexis Saelemaekers added a third with 25 minutes to play to underline Belgium’s top spot in the FIFA rankings and extend their unbeaten home record to 29 games.
The win consolidated Belgium’s top position in Group E, with 13 points from five games, six points ahead of the second-placed Czechs.
Lukaku, who was honored for his milestone before the race, wasted no time emphasizing his key role for the team and raced away on a Hans Vanaken pass to finish expertly.
It was a typical Belgian fast transition game with Youri Tielemans attacking while pushing their visitors into the ground with a quick counter-punch.
The same Tielemans-Vanaken combination provided Hazard’s 41st minute chance. Vanaken’s smart heel fell for Hazard to shoot over the keeper.
Lukaku had another chance to score, but was denied twice by saves from debuting goalkeeper Jindrich Stanek, who had come in early after Tomas Vaclik was injured.
On the other hand, Thibaut Courtois made two excellent stops to deny the Czech and cement his reputation among the world’s best goalkeepers.
He came out to deny Matej Vydra, who was clearly on target early in the second half, then made a diving one-handed save to parry a stinging close shot from Vladimir Coufal.
Saelemaekers scored his first international goal after a clever build-up with Hazard faltering Toby Alderweireld’s forward pass, Lukaku then tapped it further and the substitute who walked on it finished it off.