KAZAN, Russia (AP)Midfielder Dennis Praet scored the lone goal as a Belgium team missing many of its stars beat Belarus 1-0 to open a nine-point lead in its World Cup qualifying group on Wednesday.
Belgium has 16 points from his six games in Group E, with the Czech Republic and Wales level on seven.
In the group’s other game, third-placed Wales was held to a goalless draw by Estonia. Wales has played two games fewer.
Belgium was without several stalwart players including Romelu Lukaku, Axel Witsel, Thibaut Courtois and Thomas Meunier. Belgium coach Roberto Martinez also left playmaker and captain Eden Hazard on the bench until the final 30 minutes.
Given the experimental lineup, Belgium lacked pace, accuracy and could not reproduce the dominant display of the corresponding match when the Red Devils won 8-0 at home in March.
But Martinez’s team was never threatened and looked in control throughout.
Defender Dedryck Boyata created Begium’s first chance in the 31st minute with a powerful shot that hit the bar, with Michy Batshuayi heading the ball home from the rebound only to see his goal disallowed for offside.
Praet made it 1-0 only two minutes later with an angled shot from inside the box from AC Milan winger Alexis Saelemaekers’ assist.
Hazard entered as a replacement for Leandro Trossard and came close to doubling the lead with five minutes left from a free kick.
The game was played in Kazan, Russia, due to sanctions against the Minsk government.
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