Striker Romelo Lukaku scored four goals in 20 first-half minutes as brilliant Belgium cruised to an emphatic 5-0 victory over 10-man Azerbaijan in a Euro 2024 Group F qualifier in blustery Brussels on Sunday.
Lukaku put on a magnificent display of clinical finishing as he took his tally in the pool to 14 in eight games as already-qualified Belgium earned the top spot in the group. Azerbaijan finished in fourth with seven points from its eight games.
The home side was 4-0 up inside 37 minutes as it profited from an early red card for Azerbaijan’s Eddy Israfilov who was sent off for a second booking after a wild lunge on Lukaku.
Leandro Trossard scored a late fifth goal, but Belgium’s effort was spearheaded by their captain Lukaku, who took his tally of international goals to 83 in 113 appearances before he was substituted at halftime.
The victory extends Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco’s unbeaten run at the start of his reign to 10 games, winning eight of those.
After a poor World Cup in Qatar, the confidence has returned for the team despite the absence of several regulars, not least the injured Kevin De Bruyne.
Azerbaijan could not cope with its passing and movement, and the power of Lukaku up front, who bullied the visitor’s backline and provided four clinical finishes.
The night got off to a bizarre start when the Swedish national anthem was played instead that of Azerbaijan, to bemused looks from the visitor and no shortage of embarrassment from home officials.
It took until the 17th minute to open the scoring as Jeremy Doku was left unmarked on the edge of the box and his cross was easily headed into the net by Lukaku.
Azerbaijan’s evening got worse seven minutes later when they were reduced to 10 men as Israfilov received a second yellow card. Both his bookings came in the space of four mad minutes.
Lukaku had the ball in the back of the net again shortly afterwards, a fine finish into the bottom corner after he was picked out by Timothy Castagne’s header.
He completed his hat-trick 13 minutes after scoring his first as he headed in Wout Faes’s cross, before adding a fourth after he was fed by Orel Mangala in the box and easily beat the goalkeeper.
His 14 goals are the most ever scored in the qualifiers for a single Euros campaign.
Not surprisingly the sting went out of the game in the second half but Trossard scored a late fifth from close range to cap a lively display from the Arsenal forward.