Romelu Lukaku

Belgium clinch trip to Brazil with win over Croatia

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Belgium only needed a draw to clinch their spot in the 2014 World Cup. Instead, they took no chances, with Romelu Lukaku scoring two before the halftime whistle. Croatia managed to pull one back in the 83rd minute, but with less than ten minutes left to play, getting two more proved too much. Now, with one game still left to play, the victory in Zagreb solidifies the standings of Group A, putting Belgium in Brazil and Croatia into the playoff round.

Belgium’s first goal, just fifteen minutes into the match, was almost too easy. Ivan Peresic executed a fine pass in midfield — unfortunately for the Croatian, it was a pass directly to Belgian midfielder Steven Defour. Defour quickly sent the ball on to Lukaku, who easily outstripped the Croatian defense. Stipe Pletikosa came out to try and stop the forward, but Lukaku neatly rounded the goalkeeper to put the ball in the back of the net. From the noise that ensued, you’d have thought it was Belgium playing at home rather than Croatia.

Lukaku’s second, too, was just as easy. A free kick to the home side came to absolutely nothing, with Belgium quickly regaining possession in their own half. A few neat passes got the ball to Lukaku in midfield. Again, he simply outran the Croatian defenders, leaving Mateo Kovecic panting in his wake. Again, Pletikosa came out to save, but was unable to smother the ball. Unimpeded, Lukaku simply took the ball again and tapped into an empty net.

Igor Stimac made a couple wise substitutions in the second half, choices so good you almost wondered why, exactly, the players hadn’t been handed starts. Nikola Kalinic came on for the disgraced Peresic to start the second half, Ogejen Vukojevic took the place of Kovacic for the final 25 minutes, and Niko Kranjcar took over for Ivan Rakitic ten minutes later. The substitutes certainly made a difference, but it was too little, too late.

Croatia’s goal didn’t come until the 83rd minute. Domagoj Vida, racing up the right, sent in a lovely cross. It was Kalinic that got in the first shot, but young Thibaut Courtois managed to save. A Belgian defender knocked away the ball, but it fell to Kranjcar, who caught it on the volley to knock in the goal.

Croatia: Pletikosa; Lovren, Corluka, Vida; Strinic, Kovacic (Vukojevic 65), Modric, Vrsaljko; Rakitic (Kranjcar 76), Perisic (Kalinic 46); Mandzukic

Goals: Kranjcar 83′

Belgium: Courtois; Vertonghen, Lombaerts, Van Buyten, Alderweireld; Defour (Dembélé 84), Witsel; De Bruyne (Mirallas 65), Fellaini, Hazard; Lukaku (Chadli 69)

Goals: Lukaku 15′, 38′

Statement from suspended UEFA president Michel Platini

Michel Platini, UEFA & FIFA
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Statement from suspended UEFA President Michel Platini:

Early this afternoon, I was informed of the FIFA ethics committee’s decision to impose on me a provisional 90-day suspension with immediate effect. That decision, which I will of course contest in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time, had already been the subject of a deliberate leak, and I gave my opinion on that earlier in the day.

I reject all of the allegations that have been made against me, which are based on mere semblances and are astonishingly vague. Indeed, the wording of those allegations merely states that a breach of the FIFA Code of Ethics “seems to have been committed” and that a decision on the substance of the matter cannot be taken immediately.

Despite the farcical nature of these events, I refuse to believe that this is a political decision taken in haste in order to taint a lifelong devotee of the game or crush my candidacy for the FIFA presidency.

I want everyone to know my state of mind: more than a sense of injustice or a desire for revenge, I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance. I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies.

I want to reiterate in the strongest possible terms that I will devote myself to ensuring that my good faith prevails. I have received numerous messages of support today from UEFA’s member associations and the other confederations encouraging me to continue my work serving football’s interests. Nothing will make me give up on that commitment.

EURO 2016: Ireland shock Germany, Northern Ireland qualify

Shane Long, Ireland
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A recap of Thursday’s action in 2016 European Championship qualifying:

Ireland 1-0 Germany

Southampton striker Shane Long scored the goal that knocked off the defending world champions and pushed Ireland one step closer to next summer’s European Championship in France. Long, who entered the game in the 65th minute, latched onto Darren Randolph‘s ball over the top in the 70th minute, took one touch to settle and fired for the far post, beating Manuel Neuer for the game’s only goal.

With one game still to play, Ireland (18 points) sit third in Group D, level on points with Sunday’s opponent Poland. While the winner of Sunday’s clash could leapfrog Germany (19), they will more likely finish second in the group and qualify automatically. A draw on Sunday could still see both sides qualify automatically through the ranking of third-place finishers (the top third-place finishers from group play earns an automatic berth at EURO 2016).

Northern Ireland 3-1 Greece

Norther Ireland (20 points) topped Greece (3), 3-1 on Thursday to officially book their place at EURO 2016. Steven Davis scored twice and Josh Magennis added the third for Michael O’Neill’s side.

With one game still to play (Sunday, at Finland), Northern Ireland can finish no lower than second. A draw against Finland, or any points dropped by Romania (17) would see Northern Ireland finish top of Group F.

Portugal 1-0 Denmark

Joao Moutinho scored the only goal of the game to secure Portugal’s (18 points from just seven games) place at next summer’s tournament. The defeat sees Denmark remain second in Group I, a point ahead of third-place Albania, who lost to Serbia on Thursday. Having played all eight of their group games, Denmark can go no higher than 12 points, meaning they would fail to qualify if Albania beat Armenia on Sunday. A draw between Albania and Armenia would see Denmark qualify based on tiebreakers.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying action

Group D

Scotland 2-2 Poland
Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar

Group F

Hungary 2-1 Faroe Islands
Romania 1-1 Finland

Group I

Albania 0-2 Serbia