Axel Witsel, Dries Mertens see Belgium stroll past Australia

Axel Witsel, Dries Mertens see Belgium stroll past Australia
Belgium's Axel Witsel, left, challenges Australia's Mark Milligan during a friendly soccer match at the Maurice Dufrasne stadium in Liege, Belgium on Thursday

A lucky goal from Dries Mertens and a powerful strike from Axel Witsel gave Belgium a comfortable 2-0 win over a combative Australia in an international friendly in Liege on Thursday.

Belgium, beaten by Argentina in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals in Brazil, were the better side in a match of relatively few chances between two teams playing each other for the first time.

The opening goal in the 18th minute came when Mertens beat Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan somewhat fortuitously from a narrow angle after Kevin De Bruyne had struck the bar.

Australia, who lost all three of their World Cup group phase matches, had a chance to equalise five minutes later, but Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois dived to his right to keep out a Tim Cahill shot.

Witsel made it 2-0 in the 77th minute, cracking a firm left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area just beyond the outstretched Ryan.

Mertens and Divock Origi were lively in attack and Steven Defour was threatening from midfield, but Belgium struggled to trouble Australia’s keeper Ryan, who plays for Belgian side Club Bruges.

“The first half was almost perfect. Everyone knew exactly what they had to do,” said Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, before adding that he was particularly encouraged by his players’ tactical flexibility.

Belgium, playing in a fresh kit made by new sponsors Adidas, were deprived of key players Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku through injury.
Yet captain Vincent Kompany, who required a calf scan earlier in the week, lasted the full 90 minutes.

Belgium were due to kick off their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Israel on Sept. 9, but the match was postponed until March 31 because of security concerns.

Their first Group B fixture will now be against Andorra on Oct. 10. Bosnia, Cyprus and Wales are also in the Group.

Australia face Saudi Arabia at Fulham’s Craven Cottage in London next Monday and host the Asian Cup in January.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. You can find out more by clicking this link