Belgium celebrates No. 1 ranking with 3-1 win over Italy

ABS-CBN Sports on Nov 14, 2015 09:58 AM
Belgium celebrates No. 1 ranking with 3-1 win over Italy
Belgiumís Jan Vertonghen, center, celebrates with teammates Kevin De Bruyne, left, Radja Nainggolan,Yannick Carrasco after scoring during a friendly soccer match between Belgium and Italy at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

RAF CASERT, Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) — Kevin De Bruyne scored one goal and added an assist in Belgium's 3-1 victory over Italy which underscored its position as FIFA's top-ranked team and further established it as a leading challenger for next year's European Championship.

After Antonio Candreva gave Italy an early lead, Belgium came back with goals from Jan Vertonghen, De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi in a sparkling performance.

By the end of game, Belgium was toying with the Azzurri, a four-time World Cup winner clearly looking in need of rebuilding ahead of next year's tournament in France.

Belgium, meanwhile, continues to impress with a cast of players that dominate the English Premier league and have a big impact in the French and Italian leagues too.

And even in the absence of injured goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet proved he is an adequate replacement with several key saves when the game was still tight.

"I have an excellent goalie," Belgium coach Marc Wilmots.

Italy took the lead in the third minute when Graziano Pelle tested Migolet with a low drive and Candreva swooped in ahead of the flatfooted Belgian defense to slot home the rebound.

But the Azzurri couldn't live up to their reputation for being the best to protect any lead. After 13 minutes, De Bruyne placed a curling corner kick on the forehead of the unmarked Vertonghen and the bouncing header from the defender left Gianluigi Buffon with no chance.

And in the 74th, Leonardo Bonucci gave away the ball in defense and De Bruyne capitalized by bouncing it past Buffon.

Belgium capped its comeback when Yannick Carrasco and Batshuayi combined through the center for another excellent goal.

"The spirit of the group is perfect," Wilmots said. "Collectively, we kept our cool, came back, and won."

The game came to a complete halt in the 39th minute, when the sellout crowd started applauding for the 39 mostly Italian victims of the 1985 Heysel drama who scrolled across the public address screens. The King Baudouin Stadium is the rebuilt Heysel Stadium, where fan violence at the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus killed 39 people.

In the second half, Italy came closest to scoring when Eder hit the underside of the bar in the 61st minute before a slew of substitutions by both sides.

It was Belgium's first game as leader in the FIFA rankings but Wilmots treated it very much like a preparation game for next year's Euros with several experiments. In the absence of captain Vincent Kompany, the defense often looked wobbly, especially with Trabzonspor's Luis Pedro Cavanda insecure on the right.

Italy was without the injured Marco Verratti and is struggling to find a replacement at playmaker, meaning the 36-year-old Andrea Pirlo could still play a major role in this team.


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