Belgium seem ready to finally collect the fruits of their golden generation’s maturity. While Panama and Tunisia didn’t prove to be the most challenging of tests, the ease by which coach Roberto Martìnez’s selection got rid of both was impressive. Today, they delivered five goals to the unfortunate North Africans: Two with Romelu Lukaku, and two with Eden Hazard, before Michy Batshuayi eventually joined the party.
For the Eagles of Carthage, whose elimination from Group G will likely be certified tomorrow, the consolation prize was the pride shown whenever Belgium hit the accelerator. Tunisia scored right after the Belgians had hit with a stunning one-two in the first 15 minutes, and then again following the last goal, to make their loss less humiliating: 2-5 from this Belgium, at the end of an extremely entertaining game, is not as bad as it sounds.
Coach Nabil Maaloul – whose tears on the notes of the Tunisian National Anthem provided an emotional start of the day – was not even assisted by luck, with multiple injuries decimating his defensive line. After starting goalkeeper Mouez Hassen early in the previous match with England, today he lost Dylan Bronn – minutes after he had scored Tunisia’s first goal! – and Syam Ben Youssef.
In the case of the latter however, it may not have been such a big disgrace, as Tunisia’s number 2 had already given away an early penalty to Eden Hazard, pushing him down right on the box line. Referee Jair Marrufo quickly checked the VAR, then pointed at the penalty spot, from which Hazard easily converted.
In the 16th minute, Dries Mertens stole a ball in the midfield area and served Romelu Lukaku, who concluded his dash putting it past goalie Farouk Ben Mustapha for Belgium’s 2-0. With more than 60 minutes to play and the Belgians leading by two, a goleada was in the air.
But Tunisia managed to break the Red Devils’ momentum scoring their first goal of the day two minutes later. Wahbi Khazri, the best among his lines today, shot a free kick from the left flank, and Dylan Bronn raised above everyone else to hit the ball with a header and beat Thibaut Courtois. That was the swansong for the defender who plays right in Belgium with KAA Gent, as he was forced to left the pitch shortly after.
Lukaku stole the spotlight again, distinguishing himself for a moment of fair play, when he bumped into the Tunisian goalie during an offense chance, but promptly waved his hands to deny there was any foul. Not that referee Marrufo had a different idea, anyway. Thomas Meunier served him a delicious assist in the 38th minute, and he only had to softly deposit the ball into the net again to collect his daily brace and his 4th goal in this World Cup, reaching Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scorer’s ranking.
Belgium’s 4th goal came a few minutes into the second half, and it was much to the credit of defender Toby Alderweireld, who invented a long-range pass that leaped over the whole Tunisian defensive line to catch Hazard: An easy conversion chance for Chelsea’s striker, who simply couldn’t fail it.
Sitting on a bulletproof 4-1 lead, coach Martìnez started to rotate his strikers, and when Michy Bathsuayi went in, the game turned into a bizarre “let’s-not-make-him-score” challenge on the part of the Tunisians. The Borussia Dortmund attacker collected at least five clear scoring opportunities, before he could make it to scorecard. One of his shot was cleared right on the goal line, Ben Mustapha stopped him on another chance. A third one was pushed back by the woodwork, but that was more of a mistake on his part.
Substitute Yuri Tielemans finally picked him in the box with a cross from the right side, and Batshuhayi’s left foot tap in made it five for the Belgians. Khazri answered back from close range just one minute later, making the best out of a pass by Hamdi Naguez, and surprising a Belgian defense that conceded a little too much – if you really want to look in the details of a team whose performance was indeed overwhelming.
Belgium have an abundance of talent few teams can afford – bearing in mind that they also took the luxury of leaving home a player like Radja Nainggolan. The next game against England, which will likely decide the leadership of Group G, will also tell us more about the real potential of this team. But for now, it is just a pleasure watching them play.
June 23, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool G
SCORERS: 6′ E. Hazard (B, pen.), 16′ Lukaku (B), 18′ Bronn (T), 45′ Lukaku (B); 51′ E. Hazard (B), 90′ Batshuayi (B), 93′ Khazri (T)
|BELGIUM (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Menier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco; Mertens (86’ Tielemans), E. Hazard (68’ Batshuayi); Lukaku (59’ Fellaini) (Mignolet, Casteels, Vermaelen, Kompany, T. Hazard, Januzaj, Dembélé, Chadli, Dendoncker) Coach: Martinez
|TUNISIA (4-2-3-1): Ben Mustapha; Bronn (24’ Naguez), S. Ben Youssef (41’ Benalouane), Meriah, Ali Maaloul; Skhiri, Sassi (59’ Sliti); F. Ben Youssef, Khaoui, Badri; Khazri (Mathlouthi, Haddadi, Bedoui, Ben Amor, Khalil, Srarfi, Khalifa, Chaaleli) Coach: N. Maaloul|
REFEREE: Marrufo (U.S.A.)
NOTES: Attendance: 44190; Yellow Card: Sassi (T); Extra Time: 1st half 4′, 2nd Half 4′