Lukaku shines as Belgium impress
Under-fire Lukaku redeems himself with a brace as Belgium finally impress
(Romelu Lukaku 48, 70, Axel Witsel 61)
REP OF IRELAND 0
Finally, Europe's top-ranked team flexed their muscles.
With a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland at the Matmut Atlantique in Bordeaux yesterday, Belgium got their Euro 2016 campaign back on track.
Under-fire striker Romelu Lukaku delivered the perfect riposte to his critics, scoring a brace, with the other goal coming from Axel Witsel.
Lukaku had came under intense criticism following a shambolic performance in Belgium's 2-0 defeat by Italy in their opening Euro 2016 match.
The Everton striker's place in the starting line-up for yesterday's game was thrown into doubt, after his coach Marc Wilmots hinted that he wanted to see a higher work-rate from him.
The Belgium boss said before the game: "Certain other strikers are working very well in training and will maybe get their chance."
Wilmots didn't hesitate to chop and change his team after that disaster in Lyon earlier in the week.
He ditched right back Laurent Ciman and midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Radja Nainggolan, all of whom put in mediocre shifts against the Italians.
In came Thomas Meunier, Mousa Dembele and Yannick Carrasco.
REPAYING THE FAITH
But Lukaku kept his place, and repaid his coach's faith.
Wilmots also deserves credit for an excellent tactical decision.
Kevin de Bruyne, deployed on the wing in the first match, took up a central role just behind Lukaku.
The adjustment had the desired impact, with the Manchester City attacker central to Belgium's offensive moves, including the assist for Lukaku's opening goal.
The Red Devils wasted no time in seizing the initiative from Ireland.
Eden Hazard came close to giving his side the lead in the 21st minute when he zipped into the penalty box unmarked to receive a pass, but just failed to keep his shot under the bar.
Four minutes later, Carrasco thought he had broken the deadlock after beating Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph, but the goal was rightly chalked off for offside.
Just before half-time, Toby Alderweireld had a header cleared off the line.
Ireland went into the break on level terms, but barely.
That their goalkeeper Randolph attempted more passes than any of his teammates summed up their first-half performance.
But their resistance lasted less than three minutes into the second half.
Catching Ireland off-guard with a quick counter-attack, de Bruyne then released Lukaku, who from just outside the penalty box bent an excellent shot into the bottom left corner of the net.
Just after the hour mark, the Red Devils went 2-0 up.
Meunier's pinpoint cross was met perfectly by Axel Witsel, whose thumping header gave Randolph no chance.
But Lukaku wasn't done yet.
Another lightning-quick fast break ended with Hazard squaring the ball across the goal for the burly striker to seal the victory.
The win propelled Belgium into second place in the "Group of Death".
Avoid defeat by Sweden in their final group match, and they secure a place in the Round of 16.
Belgium are back in business, and so is Lukaku.
BELGIUM: Thibaut Courtois, Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Mousa Dembele (Radja Nainggolan 57), Yannick Carrasco (Dries Mertens 64), Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku (Christian Benteke 82)
REP OF IRELAND: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, John O’Shea, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan, James Mccarthy (James Mcclean 62) Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan (Aiden Mcgeady 71), Shane Long (Robbie Keane 78)
BY THE NUMBERS
2: Romelu Lukaku is the first Belgium player to score twice in a tournament match since current coach Marc Wilmots bagged a brace in a 2-2 draw with Mexico at the 1998 World Cup.