Two second-half Romelu Lukaku goals capped a dominant Belgium display as they hit form to beat the Republic of Ireland in UEFA EURO 2016 Group E.
Belgium were seeking to bounce back from their 2-0 loss to Italy and Kevin De Bruyne, a pre-match injury doubt, started behind Lukaku and was soon controlling play. He set up Eden Hazard for a good chance shot over and then the Manchester City playmaker was denied from distance by Darren Randolph. Late in the first half De Bruyne sent in a corner met by the head of Toby Alderweireld and cleared off the line by Wes Hoolahan.
Inevitably it was De Bruyne who made the opening goal early in the second period, cutting in from the right and passing for Lukaku to sweep in his fifth in six Belgium games. It was 2-0 when Axel Witsel rose to head in Thomas Meunier's cross. The third arrived as Meunier won the ball in the corner and fed Hazard, who ran around an assistant referee before surging into the box and teeing up Lukaku for his second.
Man of the match: Axel Witsel (Belgium)
A towering header for the second goal ended any Irish hopes in Bordeaux, and Witsel also did his midfield job well, sweeping up and starting moves to ensure the front four could flourish.
Belgium turn on the style
While Belgium had been stifled by Italy in the opener (just as the Italians subsequently did a clinical job on Sweden), Ireland could not handle an attack orchestrated by De Bruyne with Lukaku ahead of him and Hazard and Yannick Carrasco – later Dries Martens – on the flanks. It was also notable that Lukaku went over to celebrate with coach Marc Wilmots after his breakthrough strike.
Ireland's positive vibes
Ireland have no choice against Italy on matchday three: they will need to win and will need to attack. They did not take a negative approach today but Belgium never let them settle and forced their opponents back by the sheer vim of their attacking, both from the front four and the overlapping full-backs.
Team reporters' views from Stade de Bordeaux
Berend Scholten, Belgium (@UEFAcomBerendS)
Wilmots's plan worked out fine. Carrasco added a dimension on the right, De Bruyne proved the creative hub in a central role behind the striker – his assist for Lukaku's opener a logical result of his fine showing – and captain Hazard also had a fair go. Hitting form comes right on time for Belgium and augurs well for the rest of these finals.
Paul Bryan, Ireland (@UEFAcomPaulB)
Prior to this defeat, Ireland boss Martin O'Neill spoke of his team having "two bites of the cherry" in terms of qualification for the last 16. Increasing his players' appetite for the next challenge against Italy, following this chastening reversal against the Red Devils, will demand a motivational masterclass.
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