When all the favourites and former champions are struggling for momentum in the 2018 Fifa World Cup, darkhorse Belgium continued their dominating run, heaping more misery on Tunisia in what turned out to be a convincing 5-2 win at Spartak Stadium Saturday.
Braces from captain Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, followed by a late strike by substitute Michy Batshuayi in added time, saw the Red Devils continue their 11-match unbeaten run in the World Cup group stage. In contrast, Tunisia continued their 40-year winless run in the greatest show on earth.
With this well-controlled win, Belgium are almost guaranteed to qualify for the second round. The Tunisians will now be praying for an England loss against Panama today to stay alive in the tournament.
The Carthage Eagles played well in the first half, led by captain Wahbi Khazri, despite conceding an early penalty in the sixth minute when Ben Youssef tackled Hazard what looked like just outside the box.
Despite heavy protests from the Arab nation, USA referee Jair Marrufo stayed true to his early decision of awarding a penalty after talking to the Video Assistant Referee. On this occasion, it was his fellow countryman Mark Geiger.
Stat: Lukaku is the first player to score 2 or more goals in consecutive World Cup games since Diego Maradona in 1986 (England & Belgium). Some jug-eared goal-hanger also managed that feat in 86.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 23, 2018
Hazard converted from the spot to register his first World Cup goal in seven outings, sending the Tunisia goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha the wrong way. It was nice to see his younger brother Thorgan jump from the bench in celebration before anyone else.
Ten minutes later, Lukaku, after receiving a forward pass from Dries Mertens inside the box, kept his cool and slammed past Mustapha. The two-goal lead was cut to half in just two minutes when Khazri whipped in a wonderful delivery in the box from a free-kick. Their No 11 Dylan Bronn jumped high and headed past a diving Thibaut Courtois.
This is the first international goal for the Gent player but he had to leave the field following just six minutes after landing wrongly.
The big No 9 Manchester United man sent the ball over the hapless North African keeper and into the back of the net once again with a deft finish during the extra time of first half after getting a clever ball from Thomas Meunier to his right.
With the brace, Lukaku now joins Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the list of the highest goal-scorers in Russia. Both have four goals to their name.
🇧🇪 Romelu Lukaku is now Belgium's all-time top scorer in major tournaments with seven goals. 🔥🔥🔥— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) June 23, 2018
And he's still only 25 ... pic.twitter.com/OBfp8o1Qvb
"[Romelu] will try to score as many goals as he can but not at all costs. I thought he was incisive, in the right position, in a confident mood, in front of goal he was as clinical as you might expect,” said Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez, praising his main striker in the post-match press conference.
Martinez though was not fully satisfied with the performance. "Many things can be better. This was a game that suited our style, you have to give credit to Tunisia. They wanted to win from the beginning, press high up. The credit that we deserve is that we took those opportunities well. We are still growing. With a two-goal lead we should have controlled the game a little bit better,” he added.
This high-scoring game continues the trend in this World Cup where, for the first time in history, none of the first 27 games ended in a goalless draw. It surpassed the previous record of 26, set as far back as 1954.
On the other side of the break, Hazard controlled the ball with his chest and finished with authority after receiving a delicious lofted trade-mark through ball from Kevin de Bruyne.
The Chelsea man, who was later adjudged man of the match, did everything right on the pitch before making way for former club-mate Batshuayi in the 63rd minute. Currently at Borussia Dortmund, Batshuayi made an immediate impact and could have even scored a hat-trick in the last 30 minutes. He finally got his goal though with a sliding finish after getting a wonderful ball from the right side by another substitute, Youri Tielemans, in the last minute of stipulated time.
Khazri was the best player on the pitch for the North Africans and finally got some reward when he scored the second goal for his side after some good build-up play down the Tunisian right.
Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul will now hope for Panama to beat England to keep their hope alive.
“As expected, it was a very difficult match. Ever since we were drawn into this group we knew Belgium were going to be a tough opponent. We would like to apologise to the Tunisian fans who were numerous in number in the stadium [yesterday]. However, we did our best and we will try to improve our performance in the future,” said Maaloul at the presser.