Sports Desk, Mar 27 (efe-epa).- Belgium, ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA, had to come from behind Saturday to secure a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic in the second World Cup qualifier for both teams.
The two sides are level on 4 points, but the Czechs sit first in Group E by virtue of better goal difference.
Michael Krmencik hit the post in the 15th minute and Czech goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik got a hand to Leander Dendoncker’s blast in the 24th and the score was still 0-0 at the half.
The hosts broke the deadlock in the 50th minute with Lukas Provod’s strike from outside the area.
With Eden Hazard and Yannick Carrasco unavailable, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez made a double-change in the 55th, sending in Thomas Foket and Leandro Trossard.
The subs used their pace to create possibilities for Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne and the Inter Milan striker brought Belgium level at the hour mark.
It was Lukaku’s 36th goal in his last 31 appearances for the national squad.
Pressing for the go-ahead goal, De Bruyne hit the post in the 69th minute, while Czech winger Jan Boril was thwarted by the cross-bar with seven minutes left in regulation.
Lukas Masopust nearly caught Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois with a low blast and defender Toby Alderweireld repelled a Tomas Soucek header on the line deep in stoppage time to prevent the Czechs from grabbing all 3 points.
In Group A, reigning European champions Portugal and Serbia are likewise level on points at 4 after battling to a 2-2 draw Saturday in Belgrade.
And as in Group E, it is the less-touted side – in this case, Serbia – who lead on the basis of goals.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos, marking his 1,000th match at the senior level in club and international play, made multiple changes to his starting 11.
One of the surprises was the inclusion of Diego Jota, who repaid his manager’s confidence by scoring twice in 25 minutes to put Portugal up 0-2 at the break.
The Liverpool man connected with a pair of headers from virtually the identical spot in front of goal. Bernardo Silva assisted on the first, while Cedric Soares provided the service for the second.
Less than a minute into the second half, however, Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic cut the deficit with his 39th international goal, making him the all-time scoring leader for the national side.
Filip Kostic scored on the counter in the 60th minute to make it 2-2.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo wasted a good chance in the 74th minute, but was sure he had won it with a shot in stoppage time.
The five-time Ballon d’Or outraced Serbia keeper Marko Dmitrovic to a long ball and angled a strike toward the net, where defender Stefan Mitrovic was waiting to clear.
Though television replays appeared to show the ball crossing the line cleanly, the linesman saw it differently and VAR was not available.
Cristiano protested, getting a yellow card for his trouble, and tossed his captain’s armband on the pitch before stomping away down the tunnel. EFE gm-cdb/dr