Belgium 3-0 Panama: Lukaku double and Mertens volley send Red Devils on their way

Panama held out for more than half of the game before finally succumbing in their World Cup debut.

Belgium 3-0 Panama: Lukaku double and Mertens volley send Red Devils on their way
Belgian players celebrate after scoring in their World Cup game against Panama/Photo: Yegor Aleyev/Getty Images
Belgium
3 0
Panama
Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen, De Bruyne, Witsel (Chadli, min. 90), Meunier, Carrasco (Dembélé, min. 74), Mertens (T. Hazard, min.. 83), E. Hazard, Lukaku
Panama: Penedo, Davis, Escobar, R. Torres, Murillo, J. Rodriguez (Diaz, min. 63), Godoy, Gomez, Cooper, Bárcenas (Torres, min. 63), Pérez (Tejada, min. 73)
SCORE: 1-0, min. 47, Mertens, 2-0, min. 69, Lukaku, 3-0, min. 75, Lukaku.
REFEREE: Referee: Janny Sikazwe (ZAM) Yellow cards: Meunier, min. 14, Davis, min. 18, Bárcenas, min. 45+2, Cooper, min. 49, Murillo, min. 51, Godoy, min. 57, Vertonghen, min. 59, De Bruyne, min. 88

Group G favorites Belgium opened their 2018 World Cup campaign with a 3-0 victory over Panama. A stunning volley from Dries Mertens opened the Red Devils account with Romelo Lukaku netting a brace to see off the new boys, who were making their tournament debut.

Panama pressured from the start

It was almost a disastrous start for the Central Americans as Lukaku went close for Belgium in the opening minute after a clever pass from Kevin De Bruyne set Yannick Carrasco free down the left, but the striker fired wide.

Seconds later, Mertens saw his effort tipped over by Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. And they were then almost gifted an opener as Eden Hazard nearly capitalized from Roman Torres' fluffed back pass, but could only fire into the side netting from a tight angle.

Torres made amends for his error moments later when he got an important touch on De Bruyne’s cross to divert it away from the oncoming Lukaku. Belgium continued to dominate possession, with Hazard twice streaking into the box.

Mertens wonder strike finally gives Belgium the lead

Having created little in the way of offense, Panama were satisfied with a goalless draw at halftime, but two minutes after the restart, Belgium finally took the lead.

After Torres cleared Hazard’s cross, the Chelsea star challenged in the air with defender Fidel Escobar. The ball dropped for Mertens, who struck a stunning volley from the right side of the box which flew past the helpless Penedo.

Panama nearly equalise, concede two in quick succession

Eight minutes after Belgium opened the scoring, the match was nearly on level terms. Edgar Barcenas clipped a ball over the Belgian backline and Michael Murillo just had Courtois to beat from close range, but the keeper was quick to react.

That was to be Panama’s only real chance as the Red Devils soon put the game out of sight, scoring twice in six minutes to ensure all three points.

From Hazard’s run, De Bruyne picked out Lukaku with the outside of his boot, and the Manchester United man stayed onside to head past Penedo in the 69th minute to double the lead.

Then, Hazard, looking more and nore dangerous, again broke for Belgium, before slipping in Lukaku, who calmly lifted the ball over Penedo for his second, giving Belgium a 3-0 lead.