Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick as Belgium kicked off a new era under Domenico Tedesco with a 3-0 win over Sweden on Friday in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier.
The Red Devils replaced Roberto Martinez with Tedesco after exiting the World Cup at the group stage, while a number of big names also retired from international football.
Tedesco’s tenure got off to a flying start at Friends Arena in Stockholm, where Lukaku’s header and a close-range finish either side of half-time had the visitors in control.
Sweden brought on 41-year-old striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Lukaku completed his treble in the 82nd minute to round off a comfortable victory.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) March 24, 2023
Dejan Kulusevski almost gave Sweden the lead when his shot trickled towards goal after Thibaut Courtois got a hand to it, only for Wout Faes to clear off the line.
It was the visitors who opened the scoring 10 minutes before the interval when Dodi Lukebakio’s right-sided cross was glanced in by the head of Lukaku.
The on-loan Inter striker doubled his tally with a tap-in from a yard out after Lukebakio burst into the box, got away from his man and once again picked out his team-mate.
Sweden struggled to ask any real questions of Courtois, despite the introduction of Ibrahimovic, and Lukaku made certain of the win when given a simple finish by Johan Bakayoko.
What does it mean? Belgium back in business
Belgium’s early Qatar 2022 exit was their latest disappointment at a major tournament, but their qualifying record for the European Championships and World Cup is formidable.
The Red Devils have now won their past 15 Euro qualifiers, while they are unbeaten in their past 33 qualifiers overall since a 1-0 loss to Wales in June 2015.
Tougher tests lie in wait for Tedesco’s side, who join Austria – 4-1 winners against Azerbaijan – on three points in Group F after Friday’s fixtures, with Estonia yet to play their opener.
Romelu Luk-ing good
The likes of Axel Witsel, Toby Alderweireld and Eden Hazard may have quit Belgium duty but, still the right side of 30, Lukaku is not done yet and clearly means business.
While he may only have scored five times in 19 games in a frustrating campaign at club level, he scored three times here to take his tally to 71 goals in 105 caps for Belgium.
It says it all about Ibrahimovic’s longevity that he represented Sweden at the 2002 World Cup and could play a part for them at Euro 2024 should his country qualify.
For all the attacking quality of Kulusevski, Alexander Isak and the returning Ibrahimovic, Sweden only managed two attempts on target in the second half when chasing a goal.
Sweden are back in qualifying action on Monday with a home match against Azerbaijan, while Belgium travel to Germany for a friendly the following day.