Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ finally hit form at a major tournament as Everton striker Romelu Lukaku scored twice to beat Republic of Ireland 3-0 in Bordeaux. The scoreline was goalless at half-time after a pretty even contest, but the favourites ran away with it – literally – after the break with three fine counter-attacking goals.
This was by no means a poor performance from the Irish, who stretched the Belgium defence throughout the game, with Shane Long very lively up front. But their game plan was turned on its head when Lukaku broke the deadlock just three minutes into the second-half with a neat sidefooted finish – the Toffees star ending a run of 12 games without scoring. Ireland responded by putting the Belgium defence under greater pressure, but their attacking commitment in search of the equaliser left them totally exposed at the back, and Marc Wilmots’ men took full advantage.
Axel Witsel soon made it 2-0 on the hour mark with a wonderful header from another breakaway move on the right, as the Irish struggled to cope with their pace on the flanks. And Lukaku doubled his tally late on with a tidy finish from eight yards out, after a darting run for captain Eden Hazard, to wrap up the win. It was a disappointing and unfortunate result for the Irish, who had looked on par with their opponents for the majority of the game, but there can be no arguments over the final score.
In truth, Thibaut Courtois had very little, if anything at all, to do in the Belgium net. It means Martin O’Neill’s men now must beat Italy in their final Group E game to have any chance of making through to the knock-out stages. Meanwhile, Belgium, who move to second in the group behind the Azzurri, can seal their last-16 spot with at least a draw against Sweden.