Lukaku makes his a double as patience pays off for Belgium
Belgium 3 Panama 0
Belgium were made to work as they got Group G up and running with a 3-0 victory against World Cup debutants Panama.
It was a frustrating first half for Roberto Martinez’s men but a superb strike from Dries Mertens broke the deadlock at the start of the second period before two Romelu Lukaku goals gave Belgium some breathing space.
“I’m delighted,” Martinez said. “It was exactly what we expected — there are no easy games at the World Cup. We started very well but then became frustrated as the first half wore on.
“But I was delighted in the way the team reacted and the commitment everyone showed to keep a clean sheet.”
Panama head coach Hernan Dario Gomez commented: “I think we have learned a lot from today’s game. The team was still very emotional at the start of the match but as time went by, they were able to focus better.
“It was an incredible experience for our country and I think that our performance was not bad. You’re never happy when you lose but I told my players that they lost with dignity.”
Belgium were quick out of the blocks and it looked ominous for Panama. Lukaku clipped an effort over the bar before Yannick Carrasco and then Mertens worked keeper Jaime Penedo.
There was a heart-stopping moment for Roman Torres after 12 minutes when his pass to Penedo was seized upon by Hazard, but he could only send his shot into the side-netting.
A quickly-taken corner almost caught Panama napping after 20 minutes but Mertens steered his effort narrowly wide.
A superb last-ditch sliding challenge from Torres prevented a simple tap-in for Lukaku shortly afterwards and it seemed just a matter of time for Belgium.
Penedo pushed away a shot from Hazard and then raced out at the feet of Lukaku, and the first half ended with Mertens slicing a volley wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Mertens opened the scoring with a sublime dipping volley from the right side of the penalty area two minutes after the break, but Panama could have been level had Thibaut Courtois not been out to deny Michael Murillo.
It was not until the 69th minute that Belgium had the breathing space they craved when Lukaku headed home Kevin de Bruyne’s delightful cross.
Six minutes later, Lukaku latched onto Hazard’s perfectly-weighted pass to lift the ball over Penedo to give the scoreline a more convincing look.
BELGIUM: Courtois, Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen, Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel (Chadli 90), Carrasco (Dembele 74), Mertens (T Hazard 83), E Hazard, Lukaku. Subs not used: Kompany, Fellaini, Mignolet, Casteels, Tielemans, Januzaj, Batshuayi, Dendoncker.
PANAMA: Penedo, Murillo, Torres, Escobar, Davis, Gomez, Barcenas (Torres 63), Cooper, Godoy, JL Rodriguez (Diaz 63), Perez (Tejada 73). Subs not used: Cummings, Calderon, Machado, Pimentel, Arroyo, Ovalle, Avila, A Rodriguez, Baloy.
Man of the match: Lukaku