Thu | Jul 19, 2018

Lukaku brace sinks Panama 3-0

Published:Tuesday | June 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Belgium's Romelu Lukaku celebrates after he scored his side's third goal during the Group G match between Belgium and Panama at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia yesterday.

SOCHI, Russia (AP):

Unlike the other FIFA World Cup favourites that struggled through their opening matches, Belgium looked every part the title contender.

Having Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku capable of scoring the way they did against Panama helps.

"People know I am supposed to score goals," Lukaku said. "The most important thing to me is to win matches."

Lukaku scored twice in a six-minute span in the second half after Mertens' perfectly struck volley gave Belgium the lead, and the Red Devils beat overmatched Panama 3-0 yesterday.

Saddled with massive expectations and a line-up of talent the envy of other teams in the tournament, Belgium showed flashes of being a team worthy of title consideration.

 

Shaky first-half

 

A shaky first-half performance by Belgium was replaced by a confident, attacking group in the second that was finally able to find gaps in Panama's defence and convert those chances into goals.

"In the World Cup, you have to play 90 minutes. You have to be aware that in any game you go into, if you don't score early on, you have to be prepared to work hard and go through periods in which you are tested," Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said.

The two goals from Lukaku came shortly after Mertens scored from about 18 yards in the opening moments of the second half, finally relieving some pressure after Belgium were unable to break down Panama for the first 45 minutes.

Lukaku's first goal came 20 minutes later, but the pass from Kevin De Bruyne made it possible. Rather than shooting through a crowd of Panama defenders, De Bruyne cut a pass with the outside of his right foot on to Lukaku's head and into the net.

Lukaku added a second on a breakaway minutes later, chipping Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo as he left his net.

"For me it's important to have the right line in the box," Lukaku said. "Usually I'm in the right position at the right time."

Belgium are now unbeaten in their last six World Cup openers, dating back to a 1986 loss to Mexico in the opener.