Football: Belgians cheer first Euro Finals entry in over 30 years

Eden Hazard scoring a penalty to put Belgium 3-1 up. He missed another later and admitted he is in the "worst form of his life".
Eden Hazard scoring a penalty to put Belgium 3-1 up. He missed another later and admitted he is in the "worst form of his life".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRUSSELS • For just a few days, Chelsea star Eden Hazard could forget about his club woes and celebrate Belgium's Euro 2016 qualification.

With Vincent Kompany injured, the stand-in captain helped Marc Wilmots' team to a 4-1 win over Andorra on Saturday, marking the first time Belgium have qualified for the Finals since 1984.

The quarter-finalists at the 2014 World Cup will be playing at the European Championship for the first time since 2000, when they co-hosted the tournament with the Netherlands.

"Obviously, it's been some 30 years that we last qualified for two big tournaments in a row so we're quite happy," coach Wilmots told state broadcaster RTBF after his side moved top of Group B.

The Belgians can guarantee finishing first place with a home win over Israel tomorrow. They were in control against Andorra from the start, with Radja Nainggolan opening the scoring in the 19th minute. Kevin de Bruyne made it 2-0 with a 20-metre free kick before the break.

The hosts clawed back a rare goal in the 51st minute when Ildefons Lima converted a penalty conceded by defender Jan Vertonghen, who had lost Andorra's Victor Moreira and could only stop him with an inclement nudge.

Belgium wrapped up the points and a place in France with a spot kick from Hazard, before Laurent Depoitre scored his first international goal.

Hazard could have made it 5-1 in the 78th minute with another penalty but this time Ferran Pol saved.

The forward remained on five goals in his last seven internationals and admitted that he is currently in the "worst form of his life".

The 24-year-old also missed a spot kick for Chelsea against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Champions League this season, and has scored just once in his last 14 Blues appearances. Without last season's player of the year inspiring Chelsea, the club are 16th in the Premier League.

"This is the first time in my career that I have had such a difficult spell like this," said Hazard.

"All I know is that I will need to work hard in order to bounce back. At Chelsea, we have concerns both as a team and individually."

His national duties, however, have offered him some respite.

"It will be a game to savour on Tuesday in front of our own fans - we will have a nice party," he added. "We are in France now and it feels nice." REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'Belgians cheer first Finals entry in over 30 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe