Belgium too good for plucky Panama
BELGIUM cruised to a 3-0 win in their World Cup Group G opener after a stunning volley from Dries Mertens and a Romelu Lukaku double broke the resistance of a brave Panama side on their debut.
Mertens hammered home a superb angled volley two minutes into the second half, sending the ball arcing over Jaime Penedo after Panama struggled to clear a cross.
Lukaku's hard work up front was rewarded when he headed home Kevin De Bruyne's brilliant outside-of-the-foot cross to make it 2-0 in the 69th minute and the big striker latched on to an Eden Hazard pass to complete the scoring with a neat clipped finish.
Despite the support of the ear-splitting roar from the thousands of flag-waving Panamanian fans at Fisht Stadium the debutants endured a shaky start.
Lukaku went close for Belgium in the opening minute after an incisive pass from De Bruyne set Yannick Carrasco free down the left but the striker fired wide.
Forced to spend much of the game defending, Panama showed strength, speed and trickery when they did break forward and they created chances of their own in a scoreless first half.
Belgium wasted no time in the second period as Mertens opened the scoring and as the underdogs started to chase an equaliser the space opened up.
The Belgians showcased an array of clever set pieces and will be happy with their performance against a physical side before games against Tunisia and England.
"That first win in the World Cup is always a special moment. Panama, as we expected, played very organised, very well-drilled (but) we were patient," Belgium coach Roberto Martinez told reporters.
"The second half, that little bit of quality of Dries Mertens and then Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku with Kevin De Bruyne being instrumental in those attacks."
The opening goal came as a relief to the Belgians, who have seen other favourites struggle against well-organised opponents in the opening round of World Cup games.
"It was tough. A long run-up to the World Cup and finally you have the first match and everybody expects so much," Martinez said.
The Belgians put their slow start behind them in the second half as their passing game started to click but Panama still managed to find opportunities for counter-attacks and were unlucky not to score.
"It is a result that can't be positive because we lost 3-0 but they could have won by a landslide," Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez told a news conference.
"I think we did a good job; some people thought we would lose by seven goals but it was only 3-0," he said.