Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku (brace) scored Belgium’s goals in a 3-0 defeat of debutants Panama in Group G’s first match of Russia 2018.
Yannick Carrasco had Belgium’s first goal scoring opportunity but his sixth minute shot was tame. The effort was soon followed by a better Dries Mertens strike which Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo punched out for a corner.
Panama captain Roman Torres whose goal secured qualification for his country almost diverted the ball into his team’s net from a Kevin De Bruyne low cross in the 22nd minute as Romelu Lukaku prowled behind the defender.
The Russia 2018 World Cup may be a debut for Panama but their goalkeeper Penedo showed some promise with two more fantastic saves to deny Mertens and Eden Hazard.
Mertens however broke the deadlock just a minute inside the second half with a shot from the edge of the box. The goal was his sixth in nine competitive matches for the Red Devils.
Panama’s first real chance to score came in the 55th minute through Michael Murrilo but his effort inside the box was deflected for a corner by Thibaut Courtous in goal for the Belgians.
That bold move seemed to encourage the debutants as Edgar Barcenas also went close to getting an equaliser but saw his long range shot blocked.
Lukaku who grabbed 11 goals in the qualifying campaign scored Belgium’s second goal in the 69th minute with a header off a pass by De Bruyne, his 37th international goal for his adopted nation.
Lukaku again soon made it 3-0 for Belgium with fifteen to full time dinking the ball above Penedo after a slick counter from the European side involving Axel Witsel and Hazard who provided the assist.
Cooper went down with cramp for Panama, but Belgium played on, with Hazard finding Lukaku over the top. He threw himself to the floor as he was challenged, but the referee waved play on, and then a spectacular effort from inside the Panama half forces Courtois to tip the ball behind! However, the referee had already awarded a free-kick.
By Izuchukwu Okosi