Belgium showed just glimpses of their best form in a 3-0 win over Panama at the Fisht Stadium on Monday to kick off their World Cup campaign.
Belgium 3 Panama 0
Red Devils unimpressive in first half
Mertens (47′) opens scoring with stunner
Lukaku (69′, 75′) puts game to bed
Belgium hit Panama with wave after wave of pressure in the first half, but the World Cup debutants held firm. However, in the second half, the gulf in class finally showed as a Dries Mertens’ wonder goal and a brace from Romelu Lukaku secured victory for the Red Devils.
Panama fans turned out in numbers to support their team, but five minutes from kick-off, it was already clear that they were in for a nerve-wrecking time.
Belgium were consistently on the front foot in the early stages, with Mertens and Eden Hazard the most threatening players in red.
Hazard came close to opening the scoring in the 12th minute. He read the play well to intercept a pass from Roman Torres, aimed at goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. The Chelsea star then tried to squeeze the ball past Penedo at the near post, but fired into the side-netting from close range.
Torres made amends for his error in the 21st minute, sliding in to turn Kevin de Bruyne’s low ball in from the right behind before it could reach Lukaku. The Manchester United striker would surely have had a tap-in.
As Panama found their feet, opportunities began to dry up for Belgium. However, Hazard came close again in the 38th minute. After bursting into the box, he unleashed a stinging right-footed shot, which Penedo did well to push behind the near post.
Belgium seemed rattled by Panama’s solid start, but whatever Roberto Martinez said to his players at half-time appeared to pay off.
In the second minute after the restart, the ball fell to Mertens on the right of the box following an aerial duel between Hazard and Fidel Escobar. The midfielder unleashed a stunning right-footed volley, which soared in at the far post.
Even then, Panama refused to lie down. Michael Murillo ran down Panama’s right and met a ball in behind from Edgar Barcenas on 54 minutes. Thibaut Courtois was alert to the danger and rushed out to block his shot.
De Bruyne and Lukaku were quiet in the first half, but when they finally linked up in the 69th minute, it was of lethal consequence to Panama.
After receiving a pass from Hazard, the Manchester City playmaker entered the box from the left before picking out Lukaku with a pin-point cross, hit with the outside of his boot. The striker marginally beat the offside trap and headed home.
Having finally found his stride, Lukaku doubled up six minutes later. After a swift break initiated from deep, Hazard played his team-mate through and he effortlessly slotted past Penedo without taking a touch to control the ball.
Martinez is unlikely to be satisfied with his side’s performance, while Panama can hold their heads up high despite the scoreline. However, the Red Devils were ultimately too strong to stop.