There are far biggest tests to come for Belgium, starting with England in Kaliningrad on Thursday, but Roberto Martínez’s players have signalled their intent early on, racking up maximum points from their opening two matches, scoring freely and looking like a team that plans to live up to their billing as one of the World Cup’s favourites.
It was a landmark afternoon for Romelu Lukaku, who created a little bit of history when he registered his third and fourth goals at these finals to draw level with Cristiano Ronaldo as the tournament’s joint leading scorer.
Lukaku has now scored more goals in World Cups and European Championships than any other Belgian down the years.
He also became the first player to score two goals or more in successive World Cup games since Diego Maradona in 1986.
Lukaku would probably have gone on to score a hat-trick had Martínez not decided that Belgium were comfortable enough with half an hour remaining.
They were already 4-1 up at that stage and the Belgium manager, with an eye on the challenges ahead, gave Lukaku a breather.
Eden Hazard, who also scored twice and now has 10 goals and 12 assists in his last 20 appearances for Belgium, was also withdrawn shortly afterwards as Belgium cantered to a victory that laid down a marker ahead of the England game.
Aided by some dreadful Tunisia defending, Martínez’s side were rampant and should have scored again long before Michy Batshuayi, Hazard’s replacement, took one of the five chances that fell to him in the final 20 minutes.
Tunisia – and perhaps England – will take some encouragement from the fact that they scored twice.
Dylan Bronn scored only two minutes after Belgium had gone 2-0 up and Wahbi Khazri got the goal he deserved when he swept home in injury time, yet their elimination from the World Cup will be confirmed if England get at least a draw against Panama on today.
There were only six minutes gone when Hazard opened the scoring.
Syam Ben Youssef, who was one of two Tunisia players to go off injured before half-time, made a reckless challenge on the Chelsea forward and Hazard calmly rolled his spot-kick into the corner of the net.
Belgium did not have to wait long to double their lead.
Mertens released Lukaku, who steadied himself before shooting low across Farouk Ben Mustapha.
It was easy to fear for Tunisia at that point but, to their credit, they responded immediately.
Khazri delivered an inswinging free-kick that Bronn met with a fine header that flashed past Thibaut Courtois.
Once again, Maâloul made a pig’s ear of things with a poor clearance that gifted Belgium possession deep inside the Tunisia half.
What followed, though, was quite brilliant.
Meunier, who was always a threat on the Belgian right with his eagerness to get forward, slid an exquisite reverse pass into the path of Lukaku and as Ben Mustapha dashed from his line, trying to narrow the angle, the striker deftly lifted his shot over him with a pitching-wedge finish.
Tunisia started the second half brightly and refused to accept the inevitable but Belgium soon had their fourth.
Toby Alderweireld’s long pass picked out the run of Hazard in behind a square Tunisia defence and there was only going to be one outcome.
Hazard expertly lifted the ball past Ben Mustapha, who was caught in no man’s land, and slotted a left-footed shot into the unguarded net.
Batshuayi was then introduced and got the biggest cheer of the afternoon when he finally added Belgium’s fifth, set up by Youri Tielemans, another substitute.
By that point, Batshuayi had seen one shot cleared off the line, another hit the bar and a third saved at point-blank range.
He could have gone on to make it 6-1 before Khazri converted Tunisia’s consolation second in the 93rd minute. – Guardian
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