Lukaku bags breakaway brace as Belgium batter Republic of Ireland
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | June 18, 2016
Belgium 3-0 Republic Of Ireland
- De Bruyne influential in number 10 role for Belgians
- Long caught by high foot in box by Alderweireld, but no penalty
- Immediate counter-attack leads to Lukaku opener
- Witsel header doubles Red Devils lead on hour mark
- Lukaku nets another goal on the break with 20 minutes left
Lukaku lands double blow on Irish hopes
Romelu Lukaku scored his first competitive goals for Belgium since the 2014 World Cup, as two breakaway moves in the second-half either side of Axel Witsel’s header sunk the Republic of Ireland in their second Euro 2016 Group E outing.
Marc Wilmots’ Red Devils were perhaps fortunate not to have conceded a penalty moments before scoring the opener, when a high foot from Toby Alderweireld caught Shane Long on the head inside the area.
De Brunye deadly
Tournament fancies Belgium, cut by Coral from 11/1 before a ball was kicked into 17/2 to win the Euros, wasted three first-half openings created by the influential Kevin De Bruyne, who played number 10 with Marouane Fellaini dropped.
First, Red Devils skipper Eden Hazard blazed over when the Irish failed to clear a right-wing cross from the Manchester City man.
An offside flag denied Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, one of three changes Belgium boss Marc Wilmots made, when the winger saw his initial effort from another De Bruyne centre tipped onto the bar by Darren Randolph. Carrasco bundled the rebound in the net, but play had already stopped.
Ending the half on top, the Red Devils saw Alderweireld’s header cleared off the line. Martin O’Neill and his charges, meanwhile, got little joy with Belgium reluctant to commit any of their back four forward other than at set-plays.
Long labours for little to no reward
Republic of Ireland centre forward Long cut a frustrated figure, with his bustling style of play being regularly penalised by the Turkish officials.
He was also aggrieved shortly after half-time when referee Cuneyt Cakir waved away penalty appeals, as marker Alderweireld appeared to catch Long with his boot in the back of the head.
Cakir once controversially sent Nani off in a Champions League last 16 game for raising his foot during Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge of Manchester United.
Lukaku springs into life
Within mere moments, Belgium had the ball in the back of the net down the other end. De Bruyne led a lightning counter, racing clear down the right flank and found Lukaku, who beat Randolph from the edge of the 18-yard box.
The Irish were two down on the hour when midfielder Witsel headed home Thomas Meunier’s cross up from right back. Another of Wilmots’ changes thus paid off, though Red Devils duo Mousa Dembele and Carrasco both limped off.
Ciaran Clark’s missed challenge led to a third Belgium goal with Hazard this time charging down the right to square for Lukaku to pick his spot and seal victory 20 minutes from time.
Azzurri could field second string for final group game
With James McCarthy looking off the pace in midfield and O’Neill missing the talismanic Jonathan Walters with a recurring Achilles problem, the Republic of Ireland were well beaten by a Belgian outfit who gave a far better account of themselves.
A Red Devils win here confirms Italy have won Group E, so Antonio Conte is well within his rights to rest players for a battle against the Irish that means more to O’Neill and company than the Azzurri.
You’ll find comprehensive coverage of Euro 2016 on Coral’s dedicated section.