Brussels: The rebuilding of Belgium looks well on track under Domenico Tedesco, even without Kevin De Bruyne.
For his third match in charge, the new coach fielded a very offensive team to take on Austria in a qualifier Saturday for next year’s European Championship. Although the contest between undefeated teams in Group F ended 1-1, Belgium excited, and a determined mindset bode well.
Jeremy Doku, Dodi Lukebakio, and Yannick Carrasco started alongside Romelu Lukaku, who was handed the captain’s armband in the absence of the injured De Bruyne.
David Alaba celebrated his 100th cap in the heart of the Austrian defense and was busy organizing the back four and intercepting Belgian passes as the hosts enjoyed most of the possession.
Without De Bruyne and Amadou Onana, Belgium’s midfield struggled in the first half but adapted and its attacking verve after the interval was tough to handle for the visitors.
Lukebakio was inspired and played with pace down the right side, Doku’s runs played havoc in Austria’s defensive lines, and Lukaku pressured defenders and scored Belgium’s equalizer in the 61st minute. It was his 39th goal in his last 35 internationals.
Belgium would have deserved to win but a superb curled shot from Youri Tielemans deep in added time landed on the crossbar.
“It’s a pity we did not score that second goal,” Doku said. “After we conceded we gave up a little but as soon as we started to play again we saw we could create problems for them.”
Austria led against the run of the play through Michael Gregoritsch’s first-half strike. It was revised as an own goal because the shot was deflected by Belgium midfielder Orel Mangala.
Austria has a three-point lead over Belgium, which has one match in hand. Belgium next travels to Estonia Tuesday and Austria hosts Sweden.
Tedesco replaced Roberto Martinez, who coached Belgium to third at the 2018 World Cup but couldn’t get out of the group stage at the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
Belgium was ranked No. 1 by FIFA for four years during Martinez’s six-year tenure but never won a major tournament. Several of the “golden generation” of Belgians — Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel, Toby Alderweireld and Simon Mignolet — retired from international duty after the last World Cup.
Austria played on the break and opened the scoring from a corner kick that fell to Gregoritsch. Unmarked on the left side of the box, the forward hit an instant volley that did not look dangerous but took a deflection and beat goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Belgium continued to dominate possession without finding an edge, exposing itself to fast counterattacks. Its perseverance was finally rewarded when Lukaku found space between defenders just outside the box and unleashed a precise and low strike for his 73rd Belgium goal.
Courtois then produced a superb reflex save to deny a powerful effort from Stefan Posch.