Romelu Lukaku marked his 100th cap with a goal as Belgium swatted aside the Czech Republic 3-0 on Sunday to move a step closer to an automatic place at the 2022 World Cup.
Chelsea striker Lukaku and former Blues forward Eden Hazard rampaged almost at will, with both getting on the scoresheet in a comfortable qualifying win for the Group E leaders at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.
The Belgians remain top of the FIFA world rankings despite their quarter-final defeat to eventual winners Italy at Euro 2020, and this was a reminder of how they got there.
A two-goal cushion by half-time meant they were largely on cruise control afterwards, with Alexis Saelemaekers grabbing their third goal midway through the second period.
Adam Hlozek saw an early firecracker of a shot deflect wide for a corner off Jason Denayer, before Belgium’s big guns did their damage.
The Czechs were caught out by Lukaku in the eighth minute as he ran in behind their defence to meet a precise pass from Hans Vanaken and finish coolly with his left foot into the bottom-right corner.
That was his 67th international goal and it was hardly a secret he would present the biggest threat to the Czech goal. Before half-time he had headed another chance over, thrashed a powerful shot that Tomas Vaclik parried away well, and scooped an 18-yard strike 10 yards over the crossbar.
Hazard had laid on each of those chances, and in the 41st minute the Real Madrid forward got the second goal himself, with a pass from Youri Tielemans cleverly helped on with a backheel by Vanaken into Hazard’s path, and he toed the ball low beyond Vaclik.
A third goal arrived in the 65th minute as substitute Saelemaekers applied the finishing touches after sensational flicks from Hazard and Lukaku freed him to shoot.
That came moments after Hlozek almost cut the deficit with a thumping shot that Thibaut Courtois tipped behind, and the third goal truly killed the contest.
An over-eager Lukaku was booked for hacking down Filip Kasa while chasing giddily after the ball, before he was roared off the pitch 10 minutes from time, replaced by Michy Batshuayi for the closing stages.