Second half goals from Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku fired Belgium to a 3-0 win over debutants Panama in Group G of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Belgium kicked off their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign with a 3-0 win over newbies Panama at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, on Monday.
In what was the first game of Group G, Roberto Martinez’s side dominated the proceedings for most parts, but weren’t able to convert their dominance into goals during the first period, as Panama managed to hold on, thanks to some impressive goalkeeping by Jaime Penedo.
However, Belgium burst into life after the restart and Dries Mertens got them off the mark with a spectacular volley, before star striker Romelu Lukaku got into the act, grabbing a quickfire double to seal the victory and three points for the Red Devils against the World Cup debutants. And here we pick out the three players who impressed the most at Sochi on Monday;
The 31-year old was out of the blocks quickly for Belgium and was one of the liveliest players on the pitch in a first-half that did not provide any goals. Mertens did come close on several occasions though, but was denied by a fine stop by Penedo on one occasion and saw a shot fizz into the side netting on another occasion, while another well-struck volley close to half-time just sliced wide.
However, it was he who set the ball rolling for the Belgians just two minutes into the second period, scoring a sublime volley that dipped and ended up nestling in the far corner of the goal to break the deadlock. It was a brilliantly struck effort from the Napoli attacker and will be an early contender for the goal of the tournament.
Mertens had a total of four shots on goal during the game, most by any player on the field and also made one key pass. It was his goal in the second period that allowed Belgium the breathing space and judging by the start he has made to the tournament, the 31-year old will have an important role to play for the Red Devils.
The stand-in captain for Belgium, deputizing for the injured Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard did not have the best of games by his standards, but still had an impact on the outcome of the match.
The 27-year old seemed to have struck up a nice understanding with Yannick Ferreira Carrasco down the left-hand side, and despite being on the receiving end of some strong tackles, kept running at the Panama defence and kept causing them all sorts of troubles. The Belgian captain came close to scoring a couple of times and also created chances for the likes of Lukaku and Mertens during the first period without much success.
Post the restart though, Hazard was fully in his elements as Belgium switched gears. The Chelsea star played a perfectly weighted pass for Lukaku in the lead up to the third goal and finished the game with 7 dribble attempts – most by any player on the field and 3 key passes. The wing wizard was far from his best, but his quality was too much for Panama to deal with. However, he will need to step it up against better oppositions.
Another Belgium player who wasn’t at his best but turned the game in a short interval in the second-half, Lukaku showed how clinical he can be in front of goal if he is supplied with chances.
The burly striker wasn’t off to the best of starts to the game, as he failed to find the target with an early chance and saw Penedo block off another effort towards the end of the first period. After a largely frustrating first 45 minutes, Lukaku started brightly after the restart and had a hand in Mertens’ opening goal before putting the game to bed in a six-minute blitz that saw him bag two goals – one a powerful header and another a lovely dinked finish over the keeper.
Having topped the goalscoring charts for Belgium with 11 goals during the qualifiers, the onus was on the Manchester United man to deliver, and he did, despite a slow start. With the two goals, Lukaku now has the second highest number of goals (5) in major tournaments for Belgium, level with former manager Marc Wilmots and behind Jan Ceulemans (6).