Belgium's outstanding opening to qualifying continues to get better as they ensured maximum points from their opening three Group 9 games with a narrow victory against Northern Ireland.
With Cyprus and Italy already taken care of Stephen Robinson's men became the latest victims as Michy Batshuayi got the only goal just before half-time. The visitors lost Liam Donnelly to a second yellow card late on and fought bravely, though could not gain a first point in qualifying.
The Northern Irish had been the first to threaten with Thomas Kaminski at full stretch to keep out Josh Carson's drive. Paul-José Mpoku sent a free-kick whistling past the post for the home side but they went ahead on 43 minutes when Laurens De Bock wriggled free on the left and planted a cross on Batshuayi's head which the forward made no mistake with.
Thorgan Hazard and the goalscorer were not far from doubling the lead after the interval, but the visitors still carried a threat and were unfortunate to see Rhys Sharpe's goalbound effort deflect the wrong side of the post. Substitute Paul McElroy was denied by Kaminski as the clock ticked down but any hope of a late equaliser was ended when Donnelly was sent off in added time.
"We knew that they would be a physically strong team and that it would not be easy," said Belgium coach Johan Walem after the whistle. "I am satisfied with the win. With nine points from a possible nine we have had a perfect start to our campaign. However, the road is long so we will not look too far forward."
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