November 13, 2021 Belgium’s Axel Witsel in action with Estonia’s Joonas Tamm REUTERS

Belgium secured themselves a spot in next year’s World Cup finals and kept up their unbeaten qualifying run as they beat Estonia 3-1 in Brussels on Saturday.

The semi-finalists in Russia in 2018 climbed to an unassailable 19 points in Group E, after Christian Benteke scored early and Yannick Carrasco and Thorgan Hazard added second-half goals.

The Belgians join Brazil, Denmark, France and Germany as the first five countries to qualify for the finals starting next November in Qatar.

But it was in fact a wasteful display from Belgium, whose supporters were expecting more of a goalfest at the King Baudouin Stadium to celebrate qualifying for a third successive World Cup.

Without the injured Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi, the 30-year-old Benteke was given a rare chance to lead the attack, and he took little time to open the scoring.

He tapped in from close range after Estonia goalkeeper Matvei Igonen made a horrible error, letting a low cross from Carrasco slip through his hands.

Benteke might have had a couple more before the break, while Eden Hazard had just the goalkeeper to beat after a clever over-the-top pass from Kevin De Bruyne, but he wasted the chance.

Carrasco showed the way after Benteke had set him up in the 52nd minute with a powerful left-footed drive into the top of the net from the edge of the area.

Estonia then pulled one back in the 70th minute when Rauno Sappinen’s shot was palmed away by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois into the path of Erik Sorga, who put the ball away.

It was four minutes later that the two-goal advantage was restored when substitute Thorgan Hazard headed home De Bruyne’s cross.

“We are super-happy to qualify and to do it in front of our home fans makes it extra special,” Carrasco told reporters afterwards.

“We must now keep working to improve as a team and to give ourselves a chance to achieve something at the World Cup.”

Belgium, who are top of the FIFA rankings despite a quarter-final exit at the European Championship and fourth place at last month’s Nations League finals, will finish their qualifying campaign away against Wales in Cardiff on Tuesday.

 

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