Napoli star Dries Mertens scored a stunning volley before the Romelu Lukaku brace as Belgium beat Panama 3-0.
The Red Devils started the tournament with great expectations and a squad packed with talent, including Mertens sporting a new blond hairstyle. There were no expectations at all around Panama, whose qualification for their first major competition was a huge shock.
It was a siege from the get-go. Mertens drew an early save, Roman Torres made a decisive tackle on Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard’s strike was parried at the near post.
Belgium eventually broke through the brick wall with a glorious right-foot volley from Mertens, who smashed it into the far top corner from a tricky angle. He becomes the first Belgian to score at two different World Cup finals since Marc Wilmots in 1998 and 2002.
Kevin De Bruyne’s inspired pass set up Lukaku for a header and the floodgates opened with Lukaku dinking it over the on-rushing goalkeeper after an Eden Hazard counter-attack.
Belgium 3-0 Panama
Mertens 47 (B), R Lukaku 69, 75 (B)
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel (Chadli 90), Carrasco (Dembele 74); Mertens (T Hazard 83), R Lukaku, E Hazard
Panama: Penedo; Murillo, R Torres, Escobar, Davis; Barcenas (G Torres 63), Cooper, Gomez, Godoy, J Rodriguez (Diaz 63); Perez (Tejada 73)
Ref: Sikazwe (ZAM)
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