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Soccer-Belgium based in provincial town for first World Cup qualifiers

BRUSSELS: Belgium will play two of their opening World Cup qualifiers in Leuven, electing to stay in the provincial town they first used late last year, the Belgian football association said on Wednesday.

The Group E opener against Wales on March 24, and a meeting with Belarus six days later at the start of the bid to qualify for Qatar 2022, will be hosted at Den Dreef in Leuven, about 30km from the capital Brussels, where the national team usually play all their matches.

Belgium, who have topped the FIFA world rankings for the last two years, moved three internationals in November from Brussels’ King Baudouin Stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions, beating Switzerland in a friendly before wins over England and Denmark in the Nations League.

The switch was forced after a 10pm curfew was imposed on Brussels as part of efforts to halt a rise in novel coronavirus infections.

"Given that no spectators will be admitted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such a move is again the most appropriate solution," a Belgian football association statement said.

The stadium in Leuven had hosted matches for the Belgium Under-21s, as well as the women’s national team, but November was the first time the men’s side played there.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ed Osmond)

Source: Reuters

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