A late Dries Mertens goal gave Belgium a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in their final World Cup warm-up friendly on Saturday, ensuring they go to Brazil on a high note after a match temporarily halted by hail.
The hosts dominated possession, but for much of the encounter they barely tested the Tunisia goalkeeper and only had a few tame shots and a couple of missed half-chances even after the visitors had a man sent off with almost 30 minutes to play.
Only in the 89th minute did substitute Nacer Chadli find Mertens in space in the penalty area and he calmly stroked it in with his right foot.
One note of concern was that striker Romelu Lukaku, who only came on for the last half hour, hobbled off in stoppage-time.
“Romelu has difficulty walking. It’s a big bruise. I think it’ll be three or four days. We’ll do some additional tests tomorrow,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said.
Belgium, with a loss and a draw against Tunisia from their two previous matches, chose to rest regular midfielders Kevin de Bruyne and Axel Witsel, and, for most of the match, Lukaku.
Until the goal, the highlight of a tight contest was arguably a fierce hailstorm midway through the first half with hailstones as large as golf balls battering the pitch, forcing a 45-minute break.
After play resumed, both 19-year-old striker Divock Origi and Kevin Mirallas were put through, but failed to find the target.
Tunisia, managed by Belgium coach Wilmots’ predecessor Georges Leekens, had tight defensive and deep midfield lines, with only one man up front.
When Tunisia’s Issam Jemaa was sent off for a second yellow card in the 64th minute they played without an obvious striker and withstood wave after wave of Belgium attacks.
“It was the first time playing against a five-man defense. It was like a wall in front of us,” Wilmots said, adding it was unlikely to be repeated at the World Cup and that first opponents Algeria pose a greater attacking threat.
Tunisia, who lost a World Cup qualifying playoff to Cameroon, had beaten World Cup finalists South Korea in Seoul 10 days earlier.
Leekens was reluctant to be drawn on Belgium’s chances.
“I’m also a proud Belgian and we have a good team, but I won’t say how far they’ll get. I think it’s best to avoid Germany in the second round,” Leekens said.
Belgium fly to Sao Paolo tomorrow, with a practice match behind closed doors against the US penciled in for Thursday.
Belgium face Algeria in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday next week, with Russia and South Korea their other Group H opponents.