Brussels (AFP)

Beat San Marino 9 to 0? An appetizer. Belgium, which validated Thursday its qualification for the Euro-2020, now has eight months to prepare for the main course that has, until then, always left a bitter taste to its golden generation.

"The next step is to finish first in the group," said the Spanish coach of the Red Devils, Roberto Martinez after the match.

If he claims a very gradual approach, Martinez should however take advantage of the last three qualifying matches - in Kazakhstan and Russia, then against Cyprus - to roam the Belgian machine for the final table (12 June-12 July).

Exempt big failures against the very modest Saint-Marinais, it nevertheless seemed vulnerable to possible grains of sand.

First on the physical plane. The Red Devils recorded a rain of packages as the match approached.

Benign against the last world nation, the absence of pillars like Kevin De Bruyne or Vincent Kompany, both injured, could be detrimental next summer.

Martinez took advantage of the weakness of the opposition on Thursday evening to experiment with alternatives, such as lateral Timothy Castagne (Bergamo), and circles Hans Vanaken (Brugge FC) and Yari Verschaeren (Anderlecht).

Choices that proved fruitful, since Verschaeren scored the 8th goal, penalty, and Castagne last.

The rotation should also be on Sunday in Kazakhstan, since the coach announced that Romelu Lukaku and Yuri Tielemans, scorers Thursday, and Leander Dendoncker, do not make the long trip.

But there is more worrying than injuries: despite the score without appeal, the Belgians have been slow to find the flaw.

From the start of the match, the Red Devils rushed to the cage of San Marino and increased the centers and dangerous shots. The finish was not at the rendezvous, at least until the 28th minute.

- Records in sight -

At the time of the first assessment of the Belgian campaign for the Euro-2020, it is obviously satisfaction that prevails.

Qualified three days from the end of qualifying - and the first European nation to compile his ticket -, the Belgians have collected the maximum points (21 in seven games) and are on track to beat their record of 28 units out of 30 possible .

In a group without cadors, Belgium conceded only one goal (in March against Russia) and has always won with at least two goals clear.

Author of six goals since the start of qualifying, Romelu Lukaku has strengthened his status as official artificer of the Red Devils and is close to the record of Nico Claesen, author of seven achievements in the qualifiers of Euro-1988.

Where Roberto Martinez boasts a group "stronger" than the 2018 World Cup, the latter is mostly very stable.

Apart from Marouane Fellaini, who announced her international retirement in March, the selection is almost identical to the one that reached the semi-finals in Russia, around her stars Eden Hazard, De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois, among others.

More mature, with talented players in all positions, is Belgium ready to win the Grail at Euro-2020?

"They can certainly win, they are very strong," said San Marino coach Franco Varrella on Thursday night.

For Roberto Martinez, "this group wants to succeed", but what will make the difference "is the way to face adversity".

With a similar squad, the Belgians had approached the Euro-2016 with great confidence, but they were out piteously, corrected 3-1 by Welsh novices at this level.

© 2019 AFP