NICOSIA, Cyprus — After a disappointing exit from the European Championship, Belgium began its bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup under new coach Roberto Martinez with a 3-0 victory over Cyprus on Tuesday.
Striker Romelu Lukaku scored a goal in each half as the talent-packed team looked determined to shake off its underachiever tag.
Belgium had gone into Euro 2016 in France as a title favorite, but lost 3-1 to Wales in the quarterfinals. The Red Devils were the favorites on Tuesday, and this time Lukaku delivered.
He headed home the opener in the 13th minute after Cyprus goalkeeper Konstantinos Panagi had parried a low shot from Thomas Meunier. In the 61st, Lukaku netted his second of the night, his 19th international goal.
Yannick Carrasco rounded off the scoring nine minutes from time, before substitute Michy Batshuayi had a last-minute penalty kick saved by Panagi.
Elsewhere, there were convincing victories too for Belgium’s Group H rivals Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
GIBRALTAR 1, GREECE 4
Though widely expected to lose, the tiny British overseas territory at least managed to score against the 2004 European champions in its first ever World Cup qualifier.
Gibraltar, which made its competitive debut in the qualifiers for Euro 2016, became a new FIFA member in May together with Kosovo and was fast-tracked into 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Gibraltar played the ‘home’ game in Faro, Portugal, while its own stadium is being built. Greece didn’t waste time and opened the scoring after 10 minutes with a volley by Konstantinos Mitroglou. Gibraltar leveled 16 minutes later with a curling shot by Liam Walker.
But the closing stages of the first half proved calamitous for Gibraltar. Scott Wiseman scored an own-goal in the 44th minute, Konstantinos Fortounis made it 3-1 a minute later and Vasileios Torosidis added Greece’s fourth in first-half stoppage time.
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA 5, ESTONIA 0
Seeking to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup, Bosnia opened its campaign with a comprehensive victory.
Veteran defender Emir Spahic headed the opening goal from close range after seven minutes and captain Emil Dzeko converted from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Estonia captain Ragnar Klavan.
Late in the second half, Bosnia added goals from Haris Medunjanin, Vedad Ibisevic and Spahic again.