Belgium builds on World Cup performance with win over Australia
LIEGE, Belgium (AP) — Belgium built on its World Cup momentum with a 2-0 victory over Australia on Thursday in a preparation game for 2016 European Championship qualifying.
Belgium turned dominance into a goal in the 18th minute. First, winger Kevin De Bruyne hit the woodwork and the rebound eventually fell to Dries Mertens, who miscued an angled shot which ricocheted in over goalkeeper Matthew Ryan.
Axel Witsel doubled the score in the 78th with a long-distance drive.
Australia played aggressively and was lucky to escape with only one yellow card to Mathew Leckie.
"They put (on) a lot of pressure and were very assertive," Belgium midfielder Steven Defour said.
Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard missed the game because of slight injuries but Vincent Kompany shrugged off a strain and stood at the heart of the Belgian defense, just like he had during the World Cup.
Before the game, Belgium marked the retirement of Daniel Van Buyten, who was the team's standout defender in Brazil and ended his career at 36.
After four victories, Belgium lost to Argentina in the quarterfinals of the World Cup and coach Marc Wilmots is now looking for a good run at the European Championship in France in two years, when he said he will eye at least a place in the semifinals.
Considering Belgium has a relatively young team and was already ranked fifth in the world, such ambitions are not excessively ambitious.
Belgium was supposed to open its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign in Israel but next week's game has been postponed until March because of the war in Gaza and the continuing unrest.
Australia lost all three of its group games at the World Cup and has dropped to 79th in the FIFA rankings.