A second half goal by Eden Hazard proved enough as Belgium collected the maximum six points from its two matches against Macedonia with a 1:0 victory in Brussels.
Manager Chedomir Janevski opted to make six changes to the squad due to suspensions and performance reasons stemming from the first game against Belgium. Vanche Shikov and Nikola Gligorov stepped in for the suspended Boban Grncharov and Muhamed Demiri at right CB and defensive midfield, respectively, while the other changes were Daniel Georgievski for Aleksandar Todorovski at right back, Stefan Ristovski for Aleksandar Lazevski at left back, Darko Tasevski for Ferhan Hasani in midfield and Mirko Ivanovski for Adis Jahovic in attack.
The first half started pretty slow with Belgium controlling most of the possession as both teams tried to get a feel for one another. The first chance did not come until the 7th minute when Eden Hazard's shot from outside the box was saved by Pachovski. Meanwhile, for Macedonia, Pandev attempted two shots on goal in the 8th and 9th minute, but both lacked power and were easily saved by Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois. Macedonia played more organized as a team as the strategy seemed to defend, and then look to strike on the counter attack when the opportunity presented itself. Even the attacking players were tracking back to help out on defense and close down the space of the quick Belgian wingers Hazard, Dries Mertens and Kevin De Bruyne.
Despite Belgium dominating possession in the opening half and most of the action happening on Macedonia's part of the field, the home side did not really force Pachovski to make a difficult save. Kevin De Bruyne unleashed a number of shots from distance that went either wide or over the goal, coming closest in the 23rd minute when his effort went narrowly wide of the left goal post. Christian Benteke came close in the 28th minute with a sliding volley from inside the area, but it wouldn't have counted anyway since he was offside. Thomas Vermaelen did reach the back of the net in the 34th minute with a header following a free kick, but the goal was disallowed for offside. Belgium continued to control bulk of the possession, but the Macedonian players repeatedly made good clearances and interventions to go into halftime still scoreless at 0:0.
Janevski made one change during the break by introducing Ferhan Hasani for Darko Tasevski. Darko, just before halftime, seemed to be struggling with a knee injury so the move was made to bring a fresh player for Tasevski who was limping a little bit to finish the 1st half.
The first chance after the break fell to substitute Kevin Mirallas, also coming on at halftime for Belgium, in the 49th minute but he rushed things and sailed a shot over the goal after creating some space to get away from Nikolche Noveski. On the other end, from a free kick, Noveski had a good chance when his marker Vincent Kompany slipped, but Noveski's header went over the goal. Vanche Shikov then made a good intervention in the 55th minute to get in front of Benteke and send a header out for a corner after a dangerous looking cross into the box by Hazard.
Kompany almost scored a goal in the 56th minute with a high, looping header from a corner kick, but Pachovski jumped and was able to parry away the ball at the top left corner. Belgium was showing more intent and then struck the post in the 59th minute. Kompany went forward from the CB position and after several blocked shots by Macedonian players, the ball fell perfectly to Hazard who sent a missile that shook the top of the crossbar before going out of play for a goal kick. Macedonia was fortunate that the score was still 0:0 as Belgium ran rampant at this juncture of the game.
The breakthrough finally came in the 62nd minute when Georgievski made a bad clearance with a header, the ball finding Hazard who made a nice dribble to create some space before firing a shot past Pachovski.
Macedonia did have a chance to equalize through Pandev in the 73rd minute, but he couldn't keep his shot down from a good position. This was a good several minute stretch for the visitors and Nikola Gligorov then came even closer in the 75th minute with a curling effort from outside of the box that went just wide of the left goal post. The final quality chance for Macedonia came in the 81st minute through substitute Aleksandar Trajkovski, who came on for the disappointing Ivan Trichkovski, but his shot from the edge of the area was blocked before going out for a corner.
Belgium seemed content to control possession for the remainder of the match and with the Macedonian players looking extremely tired at this point, the home side comfortably held on to collect the 1:0 victory. Another substitute in Nacer Chadli had a chance to put the game away in the third and final minute of stoppage time in the 90th minute, but his shot after a quickly executed counter attack was saved by Pachovski.
To view the match report, click here.
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