Soccer

Romelu Lukaku hits winner as Belgium edges Japan

Kyodo, AP, AFP-JIJI

Japan narrowly lost to fifth-ranked Belgium in a friendly on Tuesday as Romelu Lukaku gave the hosts a 1-0 victory.

The Manchester United striker headed home a cross from Nacer Chadli in the 72nd minute, taking his international tally to 31 goals to become the nation’s all-time top scorer at the age of 24.

Substitute Kenyu Sugimoto had a left-footed shot saved in the 77th minute by Belgium goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who also denied Japan chances to take the lead before the break.

Urawa Reds midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa made his debut for Japan, getting the thumbs up from manager Vahid Halilhodzic for his defensive capabilities.

“I was called up even though I’ve only played a few games (for Urawa). If I’m given another opportunity I’ll try to make an impression,” the 25-year-old Nagasawa said.

Japan, 44th in the FIFA rankings, had two wins and two draws against Belgium before Tuesday. Both teams are bound for next year’s World Cup in Russia, with the opponents for the group stage to be determined Dec. 1 when the draw takes place.

Japan lost to Brazil 3-1 Friday in the other friendly on its Europe tour.

In Dublin, Christian Eriksen scored a superb hat trick as Denmark qualified for the World Cup with an emphatic 5-1 victory over Ireland in their playoff.

With last week’s first leg having finished 0-0, Ireland made an ideal start to the return match by taking the lead in the sixth minute through defender Shane Duffy.

But Denmark’s players gradually took control in midfield and were rewarded when Andreas Christensen’s effort went into the net off Ireland’s Cyrus Christie in the 29th minute.

Eriksen then stole the show, putting the visitors ahead in the 32nd minute, and scoring two more after the break.

Nicklas Bendtner turned a deserved victory into a rout when he converted a penalty in the 90th minute.

Next year’s tournament in Russia will be Denmark’s fifth World Cup appearance and first since 2010.

Denmark coach Age Hareide paid tribute to Eriksen, who has been on fine form this season for Tottenham in the Premier League and the Champions League.

Asked Eriksen’s world ranking as a player, Hareide said: “Absolutely in the top 10. It is difficult to rank, but we saw him against Real Madrid. He is probably one of the best players in his position in Europe at the moment.

“All the teams that succeed and go to a World Cup have star players, and players that can make the difference and Christian showed that today.”

In international friendlies played Tuesday, Lars Stindl scored a last-gasp equalizer as world champion Germany played out an entertaining 2-2 draw with France in Cologne, while Spain was held by Russia in a 3-3 thriller.

France and Germany are among the favorites for the World Cup, and Stindl’s injury-time effort extended Joachim Loew’s side’s unbeaten run to 21 matches.

Spain was denied a seventh consecutive victory as Fedor Smolov grabbed World Cup host Russia a thrilling draw in St. Petersburg, despite a rare international brace for Sergio Ramos.

“Russia showed a high level of play tonight as their players all looked extremely motivated,” Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said.

“Russia haven’t played any competitive games and their players worked flat out in every single friendly match. But we also played well tonight.”

A young England team held Neymar’s Brazil to a 0-0 draw at Wembley Stadium, having also played out a stalemate with Germany on Saturday.

Tite’s men produced a tame performance in a game of few clear opportunities, as home goalkeeper Joe Hart only had to make three saves.

Uruguay fell to a 2-1 defeat by Austria, which failed to qualify for Russia, in Vienna despite a goal for Edinson Cavani, while World Cup debutant Iceland was held by 2022 host Qatar after Mohammed Muntari’s injury-time equalizer in Doha.

The Netherlands made it two wins from two since its qualifying catastrophe by brushing aside Romania 3-0 in Bucharest.

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