Belgium eased to victory in their opening game in Russia, defeating World Cup debutants Panama 3-0. Romelu Lukaku scored twice after Dries Mertens gave the Belgians a second-half lead.
Belgium 3-0 Panama — Group G
(Mertens 47', Lukaku 69', 75')
Romelu Lukaku stole the show in the second half as Belgium topped Panama in Sochi's Fisht Stadium on Monday.
The 25-year-old forward scored two goals in six minutes to secure Belgium's victory, becoming only the third Belgian player to score twice in a World Cup match since 1966.
"People know I am supposed to score goals," Lukaku said afterwards. "The most important thing to me is to win matches."
Lukaku scored just once at the World Cup four years ago in Brazil and lost his starting spot to Divock Origi after failing to find the back of the net in Belgium's first two games. But Lukaku has consistently remained Belgium coach Roberto Martinez's primary striker, and he scored eight goals in six friendlies leading up to the World Cup to reclaim his spot.
Panama makes World Cup debut
Playing in their first World Cup match, Panama were able to stick with the Belgians in the first half. The two sides went into the halftime break scoreless despite nine shots from Belgium.
The contest did not remain scoreless for long once play resumed. Panama's Eric Davis committed a foul on the right flank, and after the Panamanians headed away a free kick from Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens jumped on the clearance and volleyed it home from outside the penalty area.
Panama's defensive structure became more frail after the opening goal. Lukaku doubled Belgium's lead by heading in a cross from Kevin De Bruyne. The Manchester United striker added a second six minutes later, receiving a through ball from substitute Moussa Dembele before chipping over Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
The victory put Belgium atop Group G on goal difference as England beat Tunisia 2-1. The Belgians will look to make it two wins in two games when they face Tunisia on Saturday. Panama's next match is against England on Sunday.
As it happened...
90+1' — Four minutes added on.
90' Belgium substitution — Nacer Chadli replaces Axel Witsel, a tactical substitution from Roberto Martinez. Kevin De Bruyne moves back to the middle and Chadli slots in on the right.
86' — Panama appeared to have a chance after Luis Tejeda receives the ball in the penalty area, but Thibaut Courtois comes off his line to make the save. The goal wouldn't have counted anyways as Tejeda was offside.
82' Belgium substitution — Thorgan Hazard replaces Dries Mertens, a straight change from Roberto Martinez.
75' GOAL — Moussa Dembele plays the ball through to Romelu Lukaku, who slots the ball home to widen Belgium's lead. Belgium 3, Panama 0
74' Belgium substitution — Moussa Dembele replaces Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, a tactical change from Roberto Martinez. Dembele slots next to Axel Witsel in midfield, with Kevin De Bruyne moving to the wing.
73' Panama substitution — Luis Tejeda replaces Blas Perez, a straight substitution.
69' GOAL — Kevin De Bruyne dribbles into the box and crosses the ball towards Romelu Lukaku. The Beglian striker, whom the referees deemed onside, heads the ball in to double Belgium's lead. Belgium 2, Panama 0
63' Panama substiitutions — Gabriel Torres and Ismael Diaz replace Edgar Barcenas and Jose Rodriguez.
57' — Adam Godoy receives a yellow card, the fifth Panama player to see yellow this evening.
55' — Michael Murillo nearly scores the equalizer from Panama, taking down a ball from midfield in the box and firing a shot off the glove of Thibaut Courtois. Roman Torres heads the ensuing corner wide left.
49' — Armando Cooper receives a yellow card.
47' GOAL — A terrific volley from Dries Mertens! Roman Torres heads a cross away in the penalty area, but Mertens hits it on the volley and finds the back of the net. Belgium 1, Panama 0
46' — Back underway. No substitution from either side at the break.
18:00 — Some halftime statistics...
45+2' — Joel Barences sees yellow.
45' — Two minutes added onto the first half.
42' — Armando Cooper collects the ball in midfield and unleashes an effort from distance, but his shot flies way over the crossbar.
40' — Kevin De Bruyne floats a free kick from the left flank to Dries Mertens. Mertens volleys a shot from outside the box but his effort flies wide right.
40' — Dries Mertens plays a ball through to Romelu Lukaku from midfield, but Jaime Penedo comes off his line to hit the pass away.
39' — Roman Torres tries to lob a volley on target after Blas Perez heads a corner on, but Thibaut Courtois catches it in the air.
38' — Eden Hazard dribbles into the penalty area and fires, but Jaime Penedo comes up with the save. Roman Torres clears the ensuing Kevin De Bruyne cross away.
36' — Romelu Lukaku called for a foul on Roman Torres near the six-yard box. He has one shot but just 13 touches in the game so far.
34' — Panama is awarded their first corner after Jose Rodriguez smacks a corner off Toby Alderwiereld. Dedryck Boyata clears the corner away to end the Panamanian assault.
33' — Blas Perez fouls Axel Witsel in the middle of the field. Aggressive pressing from the Panamanians.
31' — Six corners for the Belgians so Far. Blas Perez clears their latest one at the near post.
28' — Kevin De Bruyne's free kick hits off Panama's wall. Panama had held up well defensively against the heavily favored Belgians.
26' — Eden Hazard dribbles forward after combining quickly with Kevin De Bruyne. He unleashes an effort from outside the penalty area, but it slices wide right.
22' — Dries Mertens pays a corner short to Kevin De Bruyne at the top of the penalty area. De Bruyne fires, but his shot flies over the bar.
21' — Kevin De Bruyne intercepts the ball at the top of Panama's penalty area. He goes towards the goal line before crossing from the right. Roman Torres gets a touch to it before the ball can fall to Romelu Lukaku at the far post.
19' — Kevin De Bruyne plays a corner on the ground to Dries Mertens, and Mertens hits the side netting with his shot.
18' — Eric Davis receives a yellow card.
17' — Joel Barcenas tries to dribble around Jan Vertonghen on the right side of the penalty area. Panama may not win this game, but they are trying their darndest to do so.
14' — Thomas Meunier receives a yellow card after fouling Jose Rodriguez. Harsh, as it appeared that it was a 50-50 ball.
11' — Another chance for Belgium as Edin Hazard heads towards the goal line, but his short-angled shot hits off the side netting.
7' — Dries Mertens now has an effort from the right side of the penalty area, which Penedo saves for a corner. Belgium plays the corner short and finds Mertens, who tries to draw a penalty with a terrible dive after Fidel Escobar tries to contain him.
6' — Yannick Ferreira Carrasco fires the first shot for Belgium from just outside the box.
3' — Free kick chance for Panama after Dedryk Boyata fouls Joel Barences on the right wing. Eric Davis' free kick doesn't clear the first man.
16:58 — Fun fact: Belgium's national anthem is in the same in all three national languages: French, Flemish and German.
16:56 — Panamanian players singing their hearts out as the national anthem plays. History is on display as they get set for their first World Cup game.
16:48 — Group G is comprised of Belgium, England, Panama and Tunisia. England are set to play Tunisia at 20:00. Belgium are the experts' pick to win the group, but England could give them a run for their money.
16:41 — After 40 years international football, Panama has finally qualified for its first World Cup. It is the southern most country in north America and has a population of about 4 million people. Most of their players play their club football in the Western hemisphere, but some — namely goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, defender Erick Davis, midfielders Ricardo Avila and Jose Rodriguez and attacker Ismael Diaz — are based in Europe.
16:08 — Here are the lineups for the game in Sochi this evening...
16:00 — Group G play is set to get started as Belgium face World Cup debutants Panama in Sochi. Belgium reached the quarterfinals in Brazil four years ago and are still hoping to take advantage of their golden generation.