Belgium finally showed their class at Euro 2016 with Romelu Lukaku scoring two of his team's three second half goals in a 3-0 victory over Ireland on Saturday.
Lukaku sandwiched scores in the 48th and 70th minutes around a tally by Axel Witsel after 61 minutes as Belgium jumped to three points in Group E after dropping their first game 2-0 to Italy.
The Belgians took over second place in the group with three points - three off the pace of Italy, who had already booked their ticket to the last 16 with two wins and now have secured the top spot.
Belgium took a step towards the round of 16 but could still finish last as both Ireland and Sweden have one point and could improve to four.
"The team responded very well. We did what we had to do, we had to play good football and keep a clean sheet. That’s what we did; now on to the next game," said the Everton forward Lukaku, who has tallied six goals in his last six matches for the Red Devils.
"We accept the fact that individually Belgium are as talented a team as any in the competition but the goals we gave away were not good from our viewpoint," Irish coach Martin O'Neill said.
"You start to chase the game a little bit and get stretched and very fine players can punish you, and that is what happened."
O'Neill's defence had their hands full with the Belgian attack from the very start with Yannick Carrasco's low shot from the right side being stopped by Irish keeper Darren Randolph in the fifth minute.
Belgian built up more pressure and Eden Hazard gave the Irish a scare in the 20th minute but his hammer blast sailed just over the bar.
Marc Wilmots' team was ever so close at the 42-minute mark with Toby Alderweireld nodding to the far left post but Ireland's Wes Hoolahan was stationed at the upright and cleared away with his head.
Belgium kept up the pressure after the re-start and found the back of the net in the 48th minute on a counter attack down the right side. Kevin de Bruyne found Lukaku at the edge of the area and the Everton ace took one step to his left and placed his left footer just inside the far post.
It was Belgium's first goal at a Euros since June 10, 2000, when Emile Mpenza scored against Sweden for the co-hosts of the tournament - also Belgium's last appearance at the continental stage.
the Belgian attack struck again at the 61-minute mark to make it 2-0. Thomas Meunier crossed from the right wing into the area and Witsel ran forward and nodded a powerful header past Randolph, who did get his hand on it but could not deflect it off target.
The Irish had to push forward to try to get back into the game and the Red Devils decided it for good in the 70th minute with Lukaku's second goal.
Hazard won a ball along the sideline and then raced forward with Lukaku 2-on-1 against the final Irish defender and the Belgian captain pushed over to Lukaku at the perfect moment and the forward had no trouble beating Randolph a second time.
Lukaku became the first Belgium player to score twice in a major tournament match since Wilmots did so at the 1998 World Cup against Mexico.
Monday, June 13, 2016 - 23:52
Thursday, June 30, 2016 - 19:43