Belgium had to work hard for their 3-0 triumph over Panama, but tougher things await Roberto Martinez’s side. The scoreline is a correct reflection of Belgium’s abundance in riches in the attacking department and the manner in which they scored the goals promises of more flair in the upcoming fixtures, but they still need to work on their finesse. Ball progression through the central midfield and defensive awareness at all junctures are definitely the weaker traits of this Belgian side which they must improve upon. Panama should definitely be proud of their display tonight, the Central American nation showing glimpses of the zeal and resilience which helped them qualify for the FIFA World Cup.
Take a look at the stats from the match
Peep peeep peeeep! Belgium get their campaign off on a winning note!
Romelu Lukaku's brace and a Dries Mertens goal gives Belgium a 3-0 win over debutants Panama in their opening Group G game! After a goalless first-half, Belgium turned on the style as Mertens put Belgium ahead in the 47th minute with a well-taken volley. Lukaku made it 2-0 with a header in the 69th minute before making it 3-0 at the end of a Belgium counter. Credit to Panama for the way they played especially in the first-half.
There is a still bit of drama left in this game as Courtois was almost caught out of his goalline, only for the Belgian keeper to realize the referee had blown his whistle to facilitate treatment. Panama are finishing the game with a strong spell in spite of the scoreline.
Panama almost get a consolation goal but the offside flag was up. Belgian’s defence has switched off at an alarming propensity with every goal and such a trend could prove ominous against better sides. Panama’s meek firepower means Belgium haven’t been in any real danger today, yet Thibaut Courtois hasn’t had a quiet night by any means. Missing both Kompany and Vermalaen may have played a role in the disjointed nature of the Belgian backline, but Martinez needs to shore up his defence for Belgium to make a deep run into the tournament.
YELLOW CARD !
88` Kevin De Bruyne does a Nigel De Jong
De Bruyne with a stamp on Tejada which would have made Nigel De Jong proud. Had to be a red card but like De Jong eight years ago, escapes with a yellow.
Romelu Lukaku's third World Cup goal
A swift counter from Belgium sees Hazard link up with Lukaku and the latter makes no mistake with the finish to score his second of the day. #BELpic.twitter.com/rYoUzSiP72
A classic counter-attack from the Red Devils and it is game over for Panama at Sochi. Witsel’s pass out of his own half finds Hazard who advances at breakneck pace through the centre of the park and unleashes the Manchester United forward on his left, bypassing four approaching Panama defenders. Lukaku rarely errs from that range and certainly not today – his goal has all but secured three points for Belgium.
75` Lukaku makes it 3-0!
Eden Hazard lead Belgium's counter-attack and he finds Lukaku with a perfectly-weighted pass. The United man chips Penedo and gets his brace!
74` Belgium 2-0 Panama
Belgium make their first change of the match as Moussa Dembele replaces Carrasco. Belgium revert to a back-four with Vertonghen shifting to left back.
73` Belgium 2-0 Panama
Panama make their third and final change as Blas Perez is replaced by Luis Tejada.
69` Romelu Lukaku scores!
Lukaku scores with his first shot on target! KDB finds Lukaku for the first time in the match with a cross from outside of his boot and Lukaku stoops in to head the ball in! VAR checks whether he was offside and it looked really close but the goal stands!
63` Belgium 1-0 Panama
Double change from Panama as Gabriel Torres and Ismael Diaz replace Barcenas and Rodriguez.
62` Belgium 1-0 Panama
Mertens floats in Belgium's seventh corner of the match which is headed low by Vertonghen but is saved by Penedo. Won't count as the referee blows for a foul by Vertonghen as he went for the header.
60` Belgium 1-0 Panama
Dries Mertens (2014 & 2018) is the 6th Belgian player to score at multiple World Cups:
- Erwin Vandenbergh (1982 & 1986). - Jan Ceulemans (1986 & 1990) - Enzo Scifo (1986 & 1990) - Marc Degryse (1990 & 1994) - Marc Wilmots (1998 & 2002)#WorldCup#BEL
The game has certainly opened up in the second half. Although the opening goal buoyed Belgium to proceed to further attacks, it is Panama who almost scored the second of the night. A long ball behind the Belgian defence had caught Boyata and Vertonghen unaware, but Murillo’s extra touch on the ball allowed Courtois to foil Panama’s bid for the equalizer. Roman Torres managed to get a solid header on the resulting corner, but it was way wide off the intended target. Belgium may still be on the stronger footing, but they need another goal soon.
54` Belgium 1-0 Panama
Murillo forces Courtois into making his first save of the match. The right-back does well to bring down a long-ball in the box but Courtois puts it behind for a corner. Barcenas swings in a dangerous corner which finds Torres but his header flies wide.
Mertens has come up with a superb volley and the deadlock is broken. Following a floated ball into Panama’s defensive third, which Torres only half-cleared to the edge of the box, Mertens scored his sixth goal in his ninth international appearance with fine technique, the stunning strike beyond Penedo’s reach.
YELLOW CARD !
50` Belgium 1-0 Panama
Murillo becomes the fourth Panamanian player to be booked after bringing down Carrasco. KDB fancies his chances from 25 yards out and he his curling effort curls past the post.
YELLOW CARD !
49` Belgium 1-0 Panama
Cooper becomes the third Panamanian player to be booked after a cynical foul in Hazard.
47` Mertens scores a stunning goal!
What a strike from Dries Mertens! His cross towards Lukaku was headed back to him by Torres and the Napoli man with a sweet strike to deposit the ball into the bottom corner. Penedo can do nothing about it.
We're back at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi for the second half. No changes from either side at halftime as Romelu Lukaku gets us underway.
HT. Belgium 0-0 Panama
Fewest passes completed (attempts) in the first half of #BEL vs. #PAN:
It is all square in Sochi at the halfway mark, much to the delight of the noisy Panama supporters who have relished each and every minute of Panama’s FIFA World Cup debut. Belgium's wastefulness on the ball has been the inherent character of the first forty-five minutes. While Panama have not offered much going forward, their defensive lines have remained compact and frustrated the Belgians. Their playmaking not suspect at all, it is Hazard and de Bruyne’s link-up play with Romelu Lukaku which has been subpar with the Manchester United forward rarely seeing the ball. This is still Belgium’s three points to lose as Roberto Martinez’s side are expected to come out stronger in the second half.
Quite evening for Romelu Lukaku so far
7 - Romelu Lukaku had just seven touches of the ball in the first half (seven fewer than any other player on the pitch): one shot off target, two successful passes & four unsuccessful passes. Ignored.#WorldCup#BELPAN#BELpic.twitter.com/aro4jX75Ye
Belgium with 61% possession but have no goals to show for it.
HT! Belgium 0-0 Panama
It has been a brilliant defensive performance by the debutants to keep the likes of Hazard and Lukaku away from goal. The trend of underdogs keeping their more illustrious opponents at bay looks likely to be continued by Panama if they manage to keep up their performance in the second half. Belgium always seemed to be on second gear throughout the half with Lukaku not getting enough service despite the likes of Hazard, Mertens and Kevin De Bruyne playing behind him.
YELLOW CARD !
45` Belgium 0-0 Panama
Two minutes added on as Panama get possession of the ball in the Belgian half. They try to stitch together a few passes but Lukaku breaks play up. Carrasco is hauled down by Barcenas and the Panamanian player is booked.
43` Belgium 0-0 Panama
Murillo plays in a hopeful long ball towards Perez but it is too close to Courtois who gathers the ball.
More probing and prodding from the Belgians as Lukaku is unleashed behind the Panama defence, only for Penedo to clear with a last-ditch effort. Hazard draws yet another foul on Belgium’s left flank only for the resulting free kick to be lobbed on to the path of Dries Mertens whose shot is well wide off the post.
40` Belgium 0-0 Panama
Another set-piece routine from Belgium as KDB swings in his corner to Mertens who smashes his volley just past the post.
The Belgian captain takes matters into his own hands as he skips past two Panama defenders after receiving the ball of Meunier on the right flank, to get off a deadly shot saved expertly by Penedo. A quick passage of play for Belgium who are increasingly growing into this fixture.
38` Belgium 0-0 Panama
Romelu Lukaku had more shots (1) than he completed passes (0) in the opening 30 minutes against Panama.
Eden Hazard with a little burst of pace to get into the box and he unleashes a fierce shot which is parried away at the near post by Penedo. Mertens swings in a corner but Torres manages to get ahead of Vertonghen to head the ball away.
36` Belgium 0-0 Panama
Meunier with a high cross towards Lukaku. The Belgian No 9 tries to get to the ball but the referee blows for a foul by Lukaku on Torres. Didn't look like a foul to be honest.
The contest between Lukaku and Escobar has been an intriguing one so far, with the Panama centre-half managing to outmuscle the big Belgian forward until now. Belgium have not only won a flurry of corners, but their attacking lines have been compact, especially with Hazard and de Bruyne’s silky moves befuddling the Panama players. Only thing missing has been clear-cut chances and sustained pressure on Penedo’s goal.
33` Belgium 0-0 Panama
Panama are allowed to get deep into the Belgian half with Cooper and Rodriguez combining to win Panama their first corner of the match. Cleared away by Belgium.
30` Belgium 0-0 Panama
A poor pass from Carrasco allows Godoy to get on the attack. However, Vertonghen quickly manages to recover the ball.
28` Belgium 0-0 Panama
KDB's set-piece is deflected behind for a fourth Belgian corner by the wall. Cooper, who was in the wall, takes the full force of the ball on his face and requires treatment. Nothing comes off the Belgian corner.
Preview: Belgium see far beyond Monday's World Cup opener against debutants Panama but need a solid win to settle nerves and rack up goal difference as a "golden generation" of club greats seek finally to deliver as a team.
Defensive injury concerns for veteran squad leader Vincent Kompany and Barcelona's Thomas Vermaelen have eased and coach Roberto Martinez has sent standby defender Laurent Ciman home.
Belgium's Eden Hazard and Panama's Roman Torres. AFP
In any case, they may be more needed for Tunisia and then England in Group G, than against Panama. Celtic's Dedryck Boyata may step in to give Kompany's groin more time to recover.
An unbeaten qualifying campaign under the Spaniard, brought in after quarter-final disappointment at Euro 2016, had Martinez bring the kind of man-management he used at Everton and Wigan Athletic to meld a core of Premier League talents around Kevin De Bruyne and Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard into an actual team.
Despite a fan revolt over his decision to leave out Roma's Radja Nainnggolan, Martinez has inspired 11 million Belgians to believe this team can outdo the squad who made the semi-finals in 1986.
"What we lacked at the Euros, Martinez wants to get," said Paris St Germain winger Thomas Meunier, whose performance in a confident warm-up campaign exemplified the selfless movement in attack and defence that many players say Martinez has brought.
For Hazard, who at 27 Martinez is comparing to Lionel Messi at his peak, the four years that have passed since a 1-0 quarter-final exit to Argentina at the last World Cup have seen the Belgians mature: "We have more experience than four years ago," Hazard said. "We've only one goal: get to the final."
For the likes of Manchester City skipper Kompany, now 32, "it's now or never" if Belgium are to go one better than their neighbourly rivals, twice-finalists the Dutch, and become by far the smallest nation since Uruguay in 1950 to lift the World Cup.
Panama on paper pose little threat in Sochi to a side likely to line up with three at the back and Hazard and Dries Mertens supporting Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku. Fail to win and it could be a "crisis", defender Toby Alderweireld admitted.
Narrowly qualifying for a first final under Colombian coach Hernan Dario Gomez, Panama were thumped 6-0 by Switzerland in their pre-tournament build-up while Belgium disposed of much more fancied Central Americans Costa Rica 4-0 last week before travelling.
For Gomez, his mostly US-based players just want to avoid embarrassment, "to not be the laughing stock of the World Cup.