Lukaku on target as Belgium draw with Czech Republic

Jan FLEMR
·3-min read
Romelu Lukaku has scored 25 goals in 34 Inter Milan appearances this season

Romelu Lukaku's second-half equaliser handed Belgium a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic in a World Cup qualifier in Prague on Saturday.

The point keeps the hosts top of Group E, ahead of their opponents on goal difference.

Inter Milan striker Lukaku scored on the hour mark after fooling defender Ondrej Celustka with a mazy run, beating goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik to take his record Belgium tally to 59 goals from 91 appearances, including 19 goals in his last 16 games.

Slavia Prague midfielder Lukas Provod put the home side ahead on 50 minutes with a low right-footed shot from outside the box that slid into the bottom corner of Thibaut Courtois's goal.

Both teams were without several Germany-based players including Belgium's Borussia Dortmund midfielders Thomas Meunier and Thorgan Hazard and Czech captain Vladimir Darida of Hertha Berlin.

They missed the game over concerns they may have to go into quarantine after returning from the Czech Republic -- deemed a high-risk country by Germany.

"We were a little bit too wasteful, everything we did on the ball was a little bit of a cagey aspect," said Belgium coach Roberto Martinez after the game.

"I don't think we were our normal selves and then obviously we faced a team that has got a lot of momentum.

"We had to show a different side of our play, I don't think we've been on our normal level on the ball."

Belgium, the world number one-ranked side, started well but Lukaku fired over the crossbar and Dries Mertens saw his low shot parried away by Vaclik.

The hosts came close on 16 minutes when striker Michael Krmencik sprinted into the box and struck Courtois's post with a low effort.

Belgium kept pushing, but they failed to beat Vaclik who did well to save Leander Dendoncker's blast before stopping Timothy Castagne's header from close range.

- 'Good resilience' -

The Czechs dominated possession for most of the second half and went close again six minutes from time when Jan Boril hit the crossbar.

Visiting midfielder Kevin De Bruyne hit the post after a counter-attack in the 70th minute.

Just before the final whistle, Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek saw his header cleared off the line by Toby Alderweireld.

"We defended the box extremely well... the way that we defended in our box showed a real good resilience," said Martinez, praising the "personality and character" of his team.

"The team was able to get a draw out of a poor performance in terms of what we do on the ball, but a very, very strong performance when things are not going your way."

Belgium started the qualifying campaign with a 3-1 win over Wales on Wednesday, while the Czechs thrashed Estonia 6-2.

Belgium next host Belarus on Tuesday while the Czech Republic will play in Wales on the same day, with both teams having their Germany-based players back.

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