Perfect start for Belgium’s ‘Red Devils’

Perfect start for Belgium’s ‘Red Devils’
epa06819074 Edgar Barcenas of Panama (L) and Eden Hazard of Belgium in action during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group G preliminary round soccer match between Belgium and Panama in Sochi, Russia, 18 June 2018.

by Graeme Jackson

Monday Jun 18, 2018. 18:59

Belgium enjoyed a perfect start to their Group G campaign at the 2018 World Cup, as they hammered debutants Panama 3-0 at the Fisht Olynpic Stadium in Sochi on Monday.

The ‘Red Devils’ claimed top spot in the pool, and put the pressure on Tunisia and England ahead of their clash later on Monday night, thanks to an opener from Dries Mertens and a brace by Romelu Lukaku.

‘Los Canaleros’ did not disgrace themselves on their tournament debut, but ran out of steam after holding Belgium goalless through the first half.

Belgium made most of the running in the early stages and needed just seven minutes to force the first save out of Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, who dived smartly to his left to palm away a goal-bound effort from Mertens.

In the 21st minute the ‘Red Devils’ almost forced an own goal out of Panama skipper Roman Torres, who was lucky not to turn Kevin De Bruyne’s low cross into his own net, though he did prevent Lukaku having a tap-in behind him.

Belgium continued to build pressure in attack, with their best moment arriving in the 40th minute when a driving run from Eden Hazard ended with a powerful shot toward the far post which needed a sharp intervention from Penedo.

The Europeans had been frustrated throughout the first half, but needed just a couple of minutes in the second to break the deadlock: a ball fell kindly for Mertens in the penalty area and the attacker sent a beautiful dipping volley beyond the reach of the Panama ‘keeper to make it 1-0.

‘Los Canaleros’ almost hit back in the 55th minute when a ball over the top of the defence put Michael Murillo in on goal, but he was unable to get the better of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, with Jan Vertonghen also coming across to add pressure onto the Panama player.

The European side doubled their advantage just past the midway point of the second stanza, with De Bruyne providing a beautiful assist with the outside of his right foot which allowed Lukaku to score with a glancing header.

The Manchester United striker added his second goal in the 75th minute, coolly finishing off a counter attack led by the speed of Eden Hazard, to wrap up a 3-0 win for Roberto Martinez’s side.

Belgium will return to action on June 23 when they face Tunisia, while Panama will battle England the following day.

Belgium (0) 3 (Mertens 47’, Lukaku 69’ 75’)
Panama 0

Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen, Meunier, Witsel (Chadli 90’), De Bruyne, Carrasco (Dembele 73’), Merterns (T. Hazard 83’), E. Hazard, Lukaku

Panama: Penedo, Murillo, R. Torres, Escobar, Davis, Gomez, Barcenas (G. Torres 63’), Cooper, Godoy, J. Rodriguez (Diaz 63’), Perez (Tejada 73’)

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