PARIS: Eden Hazard ensured Belgium kicked off their qualifying campaign for Euro 2020 on Thursday (Mar 21) with a brace in a home victory over Russia, while a Memphis Depay-inspired Netherlands romped to a 4-0 win over Belarus.
World Cup semi-finalists Belgium earned a battling 3-1 win over Russia in Brussels as Hazard struck twice for Roberto Martinez's side in their opening game in Group I.
Youri Tielemans rounded off a flowing move with a crisp low strike to fire Belgium ahead on 14 minutes at the King Baudouin Stadium, but Thibaut Courtois gifted Russia an immediate equaliser.
The Real Madrid goalkeeper, put under pressure by Artem Dzyuba, panicked and scuffed the ball straight to Denis Cheryshev who duly swept home into an empty net.
Michy Batshuayi had a shot cleared off the line, and later hit the post, but Hazard restored Belgium's lead just before half-time after drawing a foul from Yuri Zhirkov in the area.
The Chelsea playmaker sealed the three points two minutes from time with an alert finish, while Aleksandr Golovin was sent off for Russia just before the end.
"I enjoyed myself tonight. I take a lot of pleasure from this victory, in which I scored two goals," said Belgium captain Hazard.
"After our last game against Switzerland (a 5-2 defeat), we had to respond in front of our own fans."
Cyprus thrashed San Marino 5-0 to provisionally seize top spot in the group, while Scotland crashed to a humiliating 3-0 loss in Kazakhstan - a nation ranked 117th in the FIFA rankings.
Yuriy Pertsukh and Yan Vorogovskiy notched early goals for Kazakhstan before Baktiyor Zainutdinov's terrific header extinguished any chance of Scotland recovering.
In Rotterdam, Memphis Depay pounced on a sloppy backpass to put the Dutch ahead inside 60 seconds against Group C opponents Belarus.
The Lyon forward set up Georginio Wijnaldum for their second on 21 minutes, with Depay tucking away a penalty after half-time following a foul by Mikhail Sivakov.
Depay whipped in a cross for captain Virgil van Dijk to nod in a fourth late on, leaving the Netherlands level on points with Northern Ireland, who beat Estonia 2-0 with Niall McGinn and Steven Davis on target in Belfast.
"It's hard to choose between the goals and the assists," said Depay. "The first goal was good because it was the outside of my foot, but I also enjoyed the flick that set up the second."
Krzysztof Piatek continued his magnificent season with the only goal in a 1-0 win for Poland away to Austria in Group G.
The AC Milan forward, already with 19 goals in 27 Serie A appearances this term, has now scored twice in three outings for his country following his international debut in September.
"This was a first step in qualifying. It was a very important game and a very important win. We took three points and so we're very happy," said Poland striker Robert Lewandowski.
World Cup runners-up Croatia, relegated from the top tier of the Nations League last year, ground out an unconvincing 2-1 victory against Azerbaijan in Zagreb.
Rami Sheydaev put Azerbaijan on top on 19 minutes before Croatia hit back through Borna Barisic and a 79th-minute effort by Andrej Kramaric in Group E.
Slovakia top the section on goal difference following a 2-0 defeat of Hungary in Trnava, as Ondrej Duda and Albert Rusnak scored for the hosts.
Euro 2020 qualifying results:
At Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Netherlands 4 Belarus 0
Northern Ireland 2 Estonia 0
Croatia 2 Azerbaijan 1
At Trnava, Slovakia
Slovakia 2 Hungary 0
Austria 0 Poland 1
At Haifa, Israel
Israel 1 Slovenia 1
North Macedonia 3 Latvia 1
Cyprus 5 San Marino 0
Kazakhstan 3 Scotland 0
Belgium 3 Russia 1