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Russia 2018: Impressive Belgium put five past Tunisia



Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard both scored twice as Belgium strengthened their lead above England at the top of Group G by crushing Tunisia with a devastating attacking display.

While Roberto Martinez’s side are not through to the last 16 yet, a win for England over Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday will see the Red Devils and Three Lions progress.

That would leave their meeting in Kaliningrad on Thursday to decide who tops the group and it is Belgium who currently hold the upper hand there, with their sparkling finishing in the sunshine at the Spartak Stadium leaving their goal difference significantly better off.

Manager Roberto Martinez said he would make “major changes” for their next encounter.

“If we could have seven days to prepare for that game and then another seven days before the following game then we would start with the same starting XI,” said the former Everton boss.

“The reality is that we have qualified – you are only as good as the 23 players. There will be opportunities for others. We need to check the injury doubts Lukaku (ankle), Hazard (calf) and Mertens (knock to ankle).”

Belgium attacked from the off and needed only five minutes to take the lead, when Hazard was barged over by Syam Ben Youssef just inside the box and got up to send Tunisia keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha the wrong way from the spot.

Things quickly got worse for Tunisia when Ali Maaloul’s heavy touch on the halfway line allowed Dries Mertens to nip in and release Lukaku, who found a perfect low finish.

The North African side, needing a win to reignite their own hopes of progress, gave themselves hope when Dylan Bronn got on the end of Wahbi Khazri’s whipped free-kick just 109 seconds later.

But they could not compete with Belgium’s vastly superior firepower and Lukaku gave the Red Devils breathing space once more with a dinked finish from a Thomas Meunier pass just before half-time.

Hazard added his second goal soon after the break, racing on to a precise Toby Alderweireld pass and rounding the keeper to fire home.

That made sure of the points, but Belgium were not finished yet.

Substitute Michy Batshuayi, who also had a shot cleared off the line and hit the bar from close range, finally found the target from Youri Tielemans’ cross.

Tunisia did manage a late consolation, when Khazri swept home Hamdi Nagguez’s cross but, unless Panama beat England, they will become the third African team to be eliminated, leaving Nigeria and Senegal to carry their continent’s hopes in this competition.

Lukaku now has four goals at this World Cup, putting him level with Cristiano Ronaldo at the front of the race for the Golden Boot.

Hazard had criticised his former Chelsea team-mate for going missing during the first half of Belgium’s opening win over Panama, but the striker’s contribution in the first 45 minutes here could not be questioned.

He galloped clear inside the first three minutes, bringing Ben Mustapha rushing from his line to block, and setting the tone for Belgium’s ambitious approach.

As well as scoring twice, Lukaku also brought a fine save out of the Tunisia keeper from a Hazard cross and his only lapse was a heavy touch from a Kevin de Bruyne pass when he was put through on goal again.

He was taken off after 59 minutes, much to the relief of the Tunisian defenders, although Batshuayi continued to torment them.

But Lukaku will surely be back to face England next week, and on this evidence he will be hard to stop.

After the match, Hazard praised the Manchester United striker’s performance against the north African side.

“This game we won, so we are happy,” he told the BBC. “We played well and scored five goals. We conceded two, but we can improve on that. However, now we enjoy the next four days and then play England for the top of the group.

“It’s easy to play with Lukaku, pass him the ball and he scores every time. He was fantastic.”

Tunisia can start planning their trip home

Tunisia showed far more attacking intent than in their defeat by England, and did not struggle to create chances in a wide-open game.

The Carthage Eagles had 16 shots, with five on target, compared to just one out of a total of four efforts against the Three Lions.

They at least showed some fight in a game they realistically had to win to have any chance of staying in the competition, but in truth they were outclassed.

While the jubilant Belgium fans were singing ‘please don’t take me home’ long after the final whistle, the Tunisia players can start thinking about their return flights from Russia.

Before then, they will face Panama on Thursday, hoping to avoid finishing bottom of Group G.

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