Bordeaux - Romelu
Lukaku silenced his critics with a brace as Belgium kick-started their
Euro 2016 campaign by comfortably beating the Republic of Ireland 3-0 in
Bordeaux on Saturday.
After being frustrated by the Irish in the
first half, Belgium broke through when Lukaku struck three minutes after
the restart, atoning for his profligacy in front of goal in Monday's
2-0 loss to Italy.
Midfielder Axel Witsel headed home in the 61st
minute and Lukaku got his second and Belgium's third 20 minutes from the
end as Belgium came good at last, albeit against a limited Ireland team
who worked hard but created little.
The result put Belgium in
prime position to qualify for the last 16 from Group E and also
confirmed Italy as group winners, a day after the Azzurri secured their
progress to the next round with a 1-0 victory over Sweden.
than anything the win should reinvigorate Marc Wilmots' Belgium side
before their last match with the Swedes and will certainly boost the
confidence of Everton striker Lukaku.
"We were good in attack and defence and it was a convincing result," said Lukaku.
"The game against Italy was difficult but today we were ready and played well all across the pitch. It was all positive."
had promised to make changes in the wake of the Italy defeat and Lukaku
was expected to be axed after being guilty of one vital miss in that
But he kept his place, as did Kevin De Bruyne, who had also been criticised and had been carrying a knock.
right-back Laurent Ciman and midfield pair Marouane Fellaini and Radja
Nainggolan dropped out, with Mousa Dembele, Yannick Carrasco and Thomas
Meunier all coming into the side.
Belgium utterly dominated
possession in the first 45 minutes against an Irish side that set out to
frustrate their more illustrious opponents, and captain Eden Hazard was
the one pulling the strings.
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill had
promised a different approach from his team after what he called an
"accomplished" showing in drawing 1-1 with Sweden, and it worked in the
first half as Belgium struggled to create openings.
Hazard blazed a
great chance over after John O'Shea headed out a De Bruyne cross into
his path, while Carrasco had a goal correctly disallowed for offside.
Alderweireld also saw his header from a De Bruyne corner cleared off
the line as the first period ended goalless, but Wilmots opted against
making any changes at the interval and he was rewarded for his patience
as the opener came soon after the restart.
Belgium broke quickly
with Lukaku releasing De Bruyne wide on the right. The Manchester City
playmaker worked the ball back into the middle for Lukaku, who took a
touch before beating goalkeeper Darren Randolph with a neatly-placed
shot into the bottom-left corner from 20 yards.
Belgium lost Dembele to injury before doubling their lead just after the hour mark with a goal of stunning simplicity.
collected a pass from Carrasco on the right and crossed for Witsel, who
stole away from James McCarthy to head in from point-blank range, with
Randolph only able to help the ball on its way in.
Ireland were demoralised and Belgium picked them off on the counter to make it three with 70 minutes played.
Meunier was involved, robbing James McClean near his own corner flag
and finding Hazard. The Chelsea star flew down that same right flank and
into the middle before squaring for Lukaku, who had an easy finish in
front of the massed Belgian support.