Lukaku scores twice as Belgium thrash Panama

Doug Mendoza
June 21, 2018

The team spirit was good.

Panama soon reverted to the same stubbornness they showed in the first half and they came close to drawing level when Fernando Murillo got out wide to bring the best out of Courtois, who saved easily. Their service includes Fox Sports 1, Fox and Telemundo (in most markets) so you can stream the game with English or Spanish commentary.

Belgium are now unbeaten in 20 matches, although the nature of the first-half performance against weak opposition showed that Martinez's men still have significant progress to make if they are to improve on quarter-final appearances at the past two major tournaments.

Roberto Martinez deployed two very similar sides in the two friendly matches against Egypt and Costa Rica ahead of the tournament in Russian Federation, both in terms of shape and personnel, and it appears he has found a winning formula which will likely provide the blueprint for Belgium at the World Cup.

Panama needs a result against England if it wants any opportunity of the final group game against Tunisia to have meaning. Roberto Martinez will know that it must be addressed ahead of games against stronger sides.

Panama lined up with a team of journeymen featuring five 30-somethings. His presence will support Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku to play a significant role in getting the all-important goals for the team, starting against Panama. But in the first half, a combination of sharp goalkeeping from Jaime Penedo, wayward finishing and last-ditch defending kept the Belgians off the scoreboard.

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That was until Mertens relieved the pressure growing on the Red Devils with a skilful volley on 47 minutes, instinctively lifting the ball over Penedo and inside the far post after Panama had squandered several chances to clear.

Belgium were probing from all angles and were once again denied by the side-netting after a short corner played in Mertens, who took aim only to hit the outside of the net on 18 minutes.

Panama nearly mustered a rapid leveller but Thibaut Courtois made a smart stop to keep out a low strike from Michael Murillo, before Lukaku struck twice in six minutes to settle the contest.

But the gulf in class began to tell as Belgium doubled their lead midway through the second half. Kevin De Bruyne picked the pocket of Fidel Escobar and appeared to have Romelu Lukaku picked out for a tap-in, but Torres slid in sharply with a vital deflection. Under Martinez, they have sometimes struggled to connect their defence and attack and don't always create enough movement off the ball, which perhaps explains why they were so pedestrian at times against the Central Americans.

That is in contrast to some of the other tournament favourites, but Martinez said he was not distracted by anyone else. "We grew in the second half and now we have to take it to the next game and grow into that".

Other reports by GizPress

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