BRUSSELS — Dries Mertens led Belgium to a 2-0 victory over Estonia on Friday to give it a dominant position in World Cup qualifying Group H after closest challengers Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina played out a 0-0 draw that was marred by a brawl after the game.
In a typical end-of-season display, Belgium did just enough to get the three points in Tallinn, Estonia, with Napoli’s Mertens latching on to a fumbled ball by goalkeeper Mihkel Aksalu to put the Belgians ahead in the 30th minute.
The Red Devils played control football for the rest of the game and Nacer Chadli sealed the victory in the 86th minute when he slotted home through the legs of Aksalu, with the assist by Kevin De Bruyne. Estonia played with 10 men for all of the second half after Artjom Dmitrijev was sent off for a high tackle on Marouane Fellaini in the 44th minute.
Belgium has 16 points from six games and holds a four-point lead over Greece, while third-place Bosnia has 11 points.
De Bruyne warned though, Belgium should not be complacent.
“It’s not over yet, there still four games, and we still need to go th Greece and Bosnia,” he said. The top team qualifies directly while most second place finishers go into a playoff.
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA 0, GREECE 0
After a drab goalless draw, most of the action happened after the final whistle.
Several players were involved in a brawl just after the game while Greek players were being cheered on by traveling fans. The fight broke out following a confrontation between Roma teammates Edin Dzeko and Greece’s Kostas Manolas.
“What happened was unacceptable and I hope FIFA and UEFA take the action that is necessary,” Greece captain Vassilis Torosidis said.
Greece said it was insulted when its anthem was booed.
“What happened tonight was out of line. It started when the crowd booed our national anthem. That is very insulting for us. Football is a game, not war. So all this should not happen,” Manolas said.
Greece continued its unbeaten run in Zenica, with the sturdy defense ensuring it held on to second place in the group behind leader Belgium. There were few scoring opportunities for most of a bad tempered encounter that saw Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli hand out seven yellow cards.
Bosnia looked for a penalty when Vedad Ibisevic ran through defenders and fell to the ground in the 60th minute, but got nothing from Rizzoli.
“The result tonight was definitely positive for us. We could still catch the Belgians. But realistically, our target is to get second place,” Torosidis said.
In the other game between the two bottom teams, Cyprus beat Gibraltar 2-1.
Derek Gatopoulos contributed from Athens.