Romelu Lukaku maintained his magnificent form to rescue a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw for Belgium against the Czech Republic on a miserable Saturday in Prague.
A superb first senior international goal from Lukas Provod put an impressive Czech Republic side in front five minutes into the second half at Sinobo Stadium on Saturday.
Belgium came from behind to beat Wales in their first Group E game in midweek and they rallied once again to secure a point courtesy of Lukaku’s seventh goal in his last six games for the Red Devils.
Both sides struck the woodwork in an entertaining contest, but had to settle for a draw that leaves them with four points apiece from two matches early in their bid to qualify for the tournament in Qatar next year.
Lukaku fired over and Dries Mertens had an early shot palmed wide by Tomas Vaclik in a promising start for the world’s number one international side.
The Czech Republic sensed Belgium were there for the taking as the rain continued to lash down and Michael Krmencik cut inside Jason Denayer before striking the outside of the near post with a left-footed strike 16 minutes in.
There was no let-up in a pulsating first half and Vaclik produced a magnificent one-handed save to keep out Leander Dendoncker’s rasping drive, before Kevin De Bruyne failed to generate any power on Lukaku’s cross with a close-range header.
It was the home side who got the breakthrough early in the second half with a brilliant finish from winger Provod, who found the far corner of the net with a venomous right-foot finish from 20 yards out after being picked out by Jakub Jankto.
Belgium were only behind for 10 minutes, though, as De Bruyne threaded a ball through to Lukaku and the striker turned Ondrej Celustka inside-out before finding the back of the net with a finish Vaclik might have been disappointed not to keep out.
De Bruyne almost put Roberto Martinez’s men in front but saw his right-foot strike come back off the outside of the post and Jan Boril hit the crossbar with a measured late drive at the other end.
Tomas Soucek – captaining his country for the first time – went agonisingly close to snatching a dramatic win right at the end when Toby Alderweireld nodded his looping header off the line, so it ended honours even.
Winning run ends
Belgium had won five consecutive matches, but they were unable to extend that to half a dozen and might feel relieved to escape with a point.
Skipper Vladimir Darida was among four Czech Republic players who were prevented from playing by Bundesliga clubs as they would have had to quarantine on their return to Germany, but Jaroslav Silhavy’s men showed they can battle for top spot.
The Belgium defence were given a real test in tough conditions, with West Ham midfielder Soucek catching the eye once again on a special night for him after scoring a hat-trick in the 6-2 demolition of Estonia.
Probing Provod makes his mark
Slavia Prague wideman Provod was a thorn in Belgium’s side and showed his quality with a brilliantly taken opening goal.
The 24-year-old also provided three key passes and 11 crosses in a lively display.
Chadli fails to step up
Nacer Chadli came into the Belgium side as one of three changes following the 3-1 victory over Wales.
He may have to wait for another start, having failed to make a telling impact going forward before he was replaced by Thomas Foket 11 minutes into the second half.
Belgium are at home to Belarus on Tuesday, when the Czech Republic face an away trip to Wales.
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