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Sunday, December 3, 2023
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Lukaku scores four in Belgium win

AP – Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku scored four first-half goals to lead a 5-0 rout of 10-man Azerbaijan in their final European Championship qualifying game on Sunday, and Serbia locked up their spot at Euro 2024 after drawing 2-2 with Bulgaria.

Spain’s 3-1 win over Georgia was overshadowed by Barcelona midfielder Gavi suffering what appeared to be a serious injury to his right knee.

Lukaku leads scoring in the qualifiers with 14 goals, four more than Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and five ahead of France’s Kylian Mbappe. Lukaku’s haul is a record for a European Championship qualifying campaign, beating the previous mark of 13 goals held by Poland’s Robert Lewandowski (in Euro 2016 qualifying) and Northern Ireland’s David Healy (in Euro 2008 qualifying).

The Roma striker took all four of his goals between the 17th and 37th minutes in an awesome display of clinical finishing. “It was an outstanding performance by Romelu,” Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco said. “He scored with every shot. You can’t do better.”

Following Lukaku’s opener to make it 1-0, Azerbajian went down to 10 players in the 24th after Eddy Pascual got his second yellow card.

ABOVE & BELOW: Azerbaijan’s Eddy tackles Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku during the match; and Spain’s Gavi Paez reacts after injuring his leg during the Euro 2024 Group A qualifying against Georgia. PHOTO: AFP & AP

Belgium had already qualified along with Austria from Group F before the game in Brussels, but the victory meant they finished in first place with 20 points from eight games, one point more than Austria. Sweden beat Estonia 2-0 and ended up third in the group.

Lukaku, who was also celebrating his son’s birthday, said that his team was poised to “go far” in Germany.

Lukaku started qualifying by scoring a hat trick against Sweden in March. The 30-year-old striker only failed to score in one of the eight qualifying games. Azerbaijan frustrated him in September in a 1-0 win for Belgium.

He has also scored nine goals in 14 games for Roma since he was loaned to the Italian club from Chelsea in the offseason.

Meanwhile, Ferran Torres scored one goal after setting up Robin Le Normand’s opener in Spain’s win to finish atop Group A.

Gavi was in tears when he limped off the field in the 24th minute in Valladolid.

Gavi’s goal for Spain in a 1-0 win at Norway in October had already secured spots for both Spain and Scotland at next year’s tournament in Germany.

The 19-year-old Barcelona player took a hard hit to the side of his right knee when he and a Georgia player collided a few minutes before he had to come off.

He kept playing and appeared to hurt the same leg while trying to control a ball. After that he immediately signalled to the team that he could not continue.


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