Euro 2020 news – Romelu Lukaku hits brace as Belgium ease past Russia in opener
Euro 2020 Group B, Gazprom Arena - Belgium 3 (Lukaku 10', 88' Meunier 34') Russia 0
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE 12: Romelu Lukaku of Belgium celebrates after scoring their side's third goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group B match between Belgium and Russia on June 12, 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Belgium cruised to a 3-0 victory over Russia to get their Euro 2020 Group B campaign off to a flying start in Saint-Petersburg.
After Christian Eriksen was sent to hospital having collapsed on the pitch for Denmark against Finland just hours earlier, there were initial fears the game would be in doubt. But it went ahead and Belgium remained professional.
The world's top FIFA-ranked side soon found their rhythm and took the lead after 10 minutes. Romelu Lukaku finished emphatically despite being stood in an offside position after Andrey Semenov's touch during a failed position allowed the goal to stand. Lukaku took the moment to send a message to Inter teammate Eriksen.
Russia almost hit back immediately through Magomed Ozdoev, who fired wide after Artem Dzyuba held up Mario Fernandes' cross, before Leander Dendoncker spurned a chance at the other end.
After clashing heads just before the half hour mark, Thomas Castagne and Daler Kuzyaev were withdrawn. Castagne's replacement Thomas Meunier then made it 2-0 after reacting to Anton Shunin's parry from Thorgan Hazard's pinpoint cross.
Yannick Carrasco could have added a third in stoppage time after brilliantly evading challenges on the edge of the area and firing over, but Belgium were well in control at the break.
Belgium's defender Dedryck Boyata (L) fights for the ball with Russia's forward Artem Dzyuba during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Belgium and Russia
Image credit: Getty Images
Having struggled to utilise captain Dzyuba's 6'8 frame in the first half, Russia finally began to exude some pressure after half time. Karavaev's cross evaded him, before Carrasco failed to connect with Lukaku moments later.
With just under 20 minutes remaining, Eden Hazard, who has struggled for form and fitness at Real Madrid, was summoned as Roberto Martinez's side looked to close the game out.
Lukaku laid down the gauntlet to his Golden Boot rivals with just two minutes remaining, latching onto Meunier's pass to power past Shunin.
TALKING POINT - Lukaku carries Red Devils in fellow stars' absence
This is something of a last hurrah for Belgium, with their 'Golden Generation' ageing and Martinez leaving after the tournament. But they showed why they are expected to go far again with an extremely dominant display. With Hazard still not at his best and only showing glimpses of his quality in a late cameo, and Kevin de Bruyne completely unavailable for this game, it was down to Lukaku to show his class. He did that, as expected.
Romelu Lukaku of Belgium celebrates after scoring their side's first goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group B match between Belgium and Russia on June 12, 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russia
Image credit: Getty Images
MAN OF THE MATCH - Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
He was alive and alert early on before driving his team forward in the first half. Belgium eased off with the points already won after half time, but Lukaku remained on his toes to add another. If Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo or anyone else want to be top scorer this summer, they'll have a race on their hands.
Romelu Lukaku of Belgium is closed down by Daler Kuzyaev and Georgi Dzhikiya of Russia during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group B match between Belgium and Russia