Belgium vs Football Union of Russia. European Championships Group B.
Saint Petersburg StadiumAttendance26,264.
Report as Romelu Lukaku nets his 19th and 20th competitive international goals from his last 15 games as Belgium kick-off Euro 2020 campaign with a 3-0 win over Russia; Thomas Meunier also on target for Roberto Martinez's side in St Petersburg
Sunday 13 June 2021 07:21, UK
Romelu Lukaku kept up his superb scoring form for Belgium with a double as they opened their Euro 2020 account with a 3-0 Group B victory over Russia.
Lukaku, stood in an offside position, turned and fired home from Dries Mertens' cross after a touch from Andrei Semyonov ruled him onside in the eyes of the officials in St Petersburg.
First-half substitute Thomas Meunier added a cushion for the FIFA top-ranked team, turning home the rebound after Thorgan Hazard's left-wing shot had been turned into his path by Anton Shunin.
With two minutes remaining Lukaku added his second - and his 20th in his last 15 competitive internationals - by outpacing defender Igor Diveev from Meunier's pass and beating Shunin with a low finish.
Russia had started the better on home soil but flagged badly after falling behind and failed to use veteran forward Artem Dzyuba's height to their advantage, as they failed to test Thibaut Courtois throughout and started their Group B campaign with a hard-working but frustrating defeat.
Belgium: Courtois (6), Alderweireld (7), Boyata (7), Vertonghen (6), Castagne (60, Dendoncker (6), Tielemans (7), T Hazard (7), Mertens (7), Carrasco (6), Lukaku (8).
Subs: Meunier (7), E Hazard (6), Vermaelen (6), Praet (6).
Russia: Shunin (6), Fernandes (6), Semenov (5), Dzhikija (6), Zhirkov (6), Barinov (7), Ozdoev (5), Zobnin (6), Kuzyaev (6), Golovin (6), Dzyuba (6).
Subs: Cheryshev (5), Karavayev (5), Diveev (5), Mukhin (5), Miranchuk (5).
Man of the match: Romelu Lukaku
Officially the away side but playing in front of their home fans in their country's second city, Russia's early intensity and pressure rocked Belgium, who took the opening minutes to settle into the game.
Lukaku's early goal, fortunate in its nature, settled their nerves with their free-scoring striker ruled onside after Semyonov's unfortunate touch gave him an open goal from 12 yards. He dedicated his opener to Inter team-mate Christian Eriksen, who had collapsed in Denmark's defeat to Finland earlier on Saturday.
Chances remained at a relative premium until Hazard, from another defensive mistake, pulled a smart save from Shunin at his near post with a low effort from wide. The Dortmund winger forced the goalkeeper into action again 11 minutes before half-time, but this time palmed the ball straight at Meunier, who pounced on the loose ball to double Belgium's lead.
Russia had little to offer to test the Belgium defence once they got to grips with the frame of Dzyuba, but Mario Fernandes should have done more to test Courtois from a corner.
The second half became somewhat of a non-event thanks to Belgium's comfortable lead and little to trouble them from Russia's perspective, but in the final minutes they added to their advantage to equal the scoreline from Italy's impressive opening victory against Turkey.
Meunier's fine threaded ball from midfield saw Lukaku show his pace to beat Diveev in a foot race and fire past Shunin from inside the box to secure a scoreline which matched Belgium's lofty expectations - for their opening game, at least.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez: "Thomas Meunier was impressive. It's never easy to start a tournament, there's a psychological and emotional element, and it's even harder as a substitute. The role of Thomas as a team-mate to Castagne was exemplary, and then the way he was focused and contributed to the victory was a real example for us.
"That's the quality of this group - it's a group of people who really care for each other, understand the roles and take what is needed for the team. I was super proud in the way Meunier gave us a way to do that."
On Christian Eriksen: "There was real sadness, we were watching it live, and then in the next five minutes we were going to our team meeting. As you can imagine, the last thing we wanted to talk was about football. There was a real shock, sadness, there were tears, we have a lot of team-mates in our dressing room who have shared big moments with Christian.
"It's a real sense of shock, so we could only send our prayers to Christian, and it was better news when we saw his recovery. Our wishes from our team and everyone in Belgium is to Christian, his family and the whole Denmark team because it was a really tough moment in St Petersburg - so I can only imagine how it was in Copenhagen."
Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov: "There's not much to say about the result. We started the game as we were planning to, playing in a very compact way. The first goal affected the way the game followed, and the moral of our team which I didn't like.
"We made some changes in the second half and played in a more compact way, but we could not create as many moments as we would like. There were a few which could have ended in a goal but Belgium really covered all the moments and did not let us play at all."
When his team needs him, he delivers. Belgium probably would have found a way to win anyway but his early goal set them on their way after a low-key start in what was effectively an away game for the Red Devils.
His second goal was a different kind of strike - using his pace and composure to add Belgium's third of the night, in a game where he stole the show.
Russia are the first of these two sides to play again, facing Finland in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday (kick-off 2pm), Belgium travel to Copenhagen to play Denmark (kick-off 5pm).