Lukaku leads Bel­gium to rout of Ire­land

Pakistan Observer - - SPORTS -

BORDEAUX, France—Bel­gium re­dis­cov­ered their most blis­ter­ing form to bat­ter group E ri­vals Ire­land 3-0 thanks to a brace from Romelu Lukaku and an Axel Wit­sel header on Satur­day.

The vic­tory of the world’s sec­on­dranked team was in stark con­trast to their limp de­feat in their open­ing Euro 2016 match against Italy.

De­spite dom­i­nat­ing the open­ing half, it still took un­til the open­ing min­utes of the sec­ond pe­riod for Bel­gium to take the lead when Lukaku fin­ished a counter-at­tack by ri­fling a shot into the far cor­ner.

Ire­land had a brief pos­i­tive spell but Wit­sel made it two for Bel­gium with a pin­point header af­ter 61 min­utes, and Lukaku com­pleted the rout with a sim­ple fin­ish af­ter an­other counter-at­tack nine min­utes later.

With Italy hav­ing beaten both the Bel­gians and Swe­den to win the group, the vic­tory puts Bel­gium in sec­ond place on three points with the Ir­ish and Swe­den stuck on a point apiece.

“We were un­der pres­sure be­fore to­day,” Bel­gium’s Kevin De Bruyne, the game’s out­stand­ing player, said. “And we came out with the right re­ponse.”

Coach Marc Wil­mots made three changes to the Bel­gium line-up that strug­gled against Italy, and they im­me­di­ately ap­peared more vi­brant and co­he­sive.

Their speed and flu­id­ity im­proved, with the in­tro­duc­tion of Thomas Me­u­nier and Yan­nick Car­rasco giv­ing them a men­ace out wide which had been miss­ing in their opener.

De Bruyne kept his place de­spite a sub­dued show­ing against Italy and, vastly im­proved, he set the tone with a sear­ing 13th-minute cor­ner which Toby Alder­weireld headed wide, be­fore find­ing his range with a free kick.

Ire­land were not with­out their own threat, as Me­u­nier’s ad­ven­tures down the right flank left space for Shane Long to ex­ploit, al­though Martin O’Neill’s side ul­ti­mately failed to reg­is­ter a sin­gle shot on tar­get dur­ing the en­tire 90 min­utes.

Bel­gium be­gan to dom­i­nate, with De Bruyne’s teas­ing de­liv­ery forc­ing a div­ing header from John O’Shea on 20 min­utes, which in­ad­ver­tently set up Eden Haz­ard to fire over.

Wes Hoola­han then cleared off the line as Alder­weireld headed an­other fine De Bruyne cor­ner goal­wards.

As Ir­ish re­solve strength­ened, Wil­mots was again left pon­der­ing how to forge an ef­fec­tive at­tack­ing unit from the Golden Gen­er­a­tion’s wealth of strik­ing tal­ent.

It took only three sec­ond-half min­utes for an an­swer to emerge, as De Bruyne tore down the right be­fore cross­ing for Lukaku, who opened his body and sent a curl­ing left-foot ef­fort into the cor­ner of the net.

The goal seemed to re­lease the pres­sure on Bel­gium, who cel­e­brated fu­ri­ously with Wil­mots in the cor­ner while their sup­port­ers threw flares onto the pitch.

Yet Ire­land were jus­ti­fi­ably left seething as Alder­weireld’s penalty-box high foot on Long in the build-up went un­pun­ished.

Wit­sel put the con­test be­yond the Ir­ish 13 min­utes later, ar­riv­ing in the box to head the im­pres­sive Me­u­nier’s cross be­yond Ran­dolph, whose out­stretched hand could not quite di­vert the thump­ing ef­fort wide.

In the 70th minute, Bel­gium added a third in a de­li­cious move that en­cap­su­lated the in­ven­tion and panache that has long been ex­pected from this tal­ented squad.

Me­u­nier, again in­flu­en­tial, dis­pos­sessed McClean and sent a long ball for­ward for Haz­ard down the right.

The at­tacker, out­ra­geously lap­ping the lines­man on the out­side, raced to meet the pass be­fore cross­ing for Lukaku who swept home with aplomb as Bel­gium se­cured their big­gest win­ning score­line at a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment in 46 years.

“As a team, we had to give a re­sponse to every­body who watched the game against Italy,” Haz­ard said. “The way we re­sponded was good and we re­ally de­served this vic­tory.”

For Ire­land, though, there was noth­ing but dis­ap­point­ment as their win­less run at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships was ex­tended to seven games.

“When you’re at­tack­ing you’re at your most vul­ner­a­ble,” O’Shea said. “So we’ll have to work on that.”

This was an em­phatic re­sponse from Bel­gium to their crit­ics.

With their first clean sheet in nine matches and a daz­zling sec­ond-half per­for­mance, they had fi­nally re­alised their po­ten­tial in a high-pro­file fix­ture, reaf­firm­ing their ti­tle cre­den­tials with clin­i­cal pre­ci­sion and real style.— Reuters

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