Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick as they claimed a 3-0 win over Sweden which overshadowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s much-anticipated return to international football in their opening Group F Euro 2024 qualifier on Friday.
The win at the Friends Arena gave new Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco the perfect start as his side seek to bounce back form a disappointing group-stage exit at the Qatar World Cup but Janne Andersson’s Sweden posed little threat.
Dejan Kulusevski thought he had given the home side the lead in the 15th minute as he cut in from the right and drove a low shot through the legs of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois but Wout Faes was on hand to stop the ball crossing the line.
Lukaku broke the deadlock in the 35th, outjumping Hjalmar Ekdal to head home a cross from the left by Dodi Lukebakio, who had tormented the Sweden defence from the kickoff.
The Belgium striker then took advantage of more slack marking to double his side’s advantage early in the second half as Lukebakio picked him out again with a low cross which he turned in from close range.
The introduction of 41-year-old Ibrahimovic in the 73rd minute after a long absence due to injury prompted an ear-splitting roar from the crowd.
Ibra’s first touch of note came seven minutes later as he chested the ball down in the box but he lost his footing on the notoriously poor pitch at Sweden’s national arena and the chance was snuffed out.
Three minutes later Lukaku killed the game off as the home defence suffered another collective collapse, leaving him with another tap-in to complete his treble and an easy win for the visitors.
Sabitzer double guides Austria to 4-1 victory over Azerbaijan
Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer scored twice and profited from a dominant first-half performance to secure a comfortable 4-1 home win over Azerbaijan in their opening Euro 2024 Group F qualifier.
Sabitzer, who is on loan at Manchester United from Bayern Munich for the second half of this season, collected a pass from Christoph Baumgartner in the box and thrashed the ball into the back of the net for the opener just before the half-hour mark.
Austria doubled its advantage a minute later as Michael Gregoritsch scored, before Sabitzer curled a wonderful free-kick into the corner of the net early in the second period.
Azerbaijan pulled a goal back when Emin Makhmudov finished from a tight angle and they briefly threatened a comeback, but Baumgartner got the goal his excellent performance deserved to restore the three-goal advantage for the hosts
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