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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Flawed but hugely entertaining Belgium rout Tunisia in typical Martinez-esque style

A match of 39 shots proved the highest-scoring game of the tournament as Belgium run out 5-2 winners at Spartak Stadium in Moscow

Belgium's Romelu Lukaku, left, scores his second and Belgium's third goal past Tunisia goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha in a 5-2 win at Spartak Stadium in Moscow. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo
Belgium's Romelu Lukaku, left, scores his second and Belgium's third goal past Tunisia goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha in a 5-2 win at Spartak Stadium in Moscow. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo

If it was all about Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, it felt all very Roberto Martinez-esque. Belgium’s captain and record scorer scored twin doubles for one of the few favourites to truly show their attacking prowess. “Qualification after two games, you cannot ask for more,” said Martinez. It is elimination for a thrashed, beleaguered Tunisia team.

A match of 39 shots proved the highest-scoring game of the tournament. “There was a lot of action in both boxes,” added Martinez. Frequently brilliant going forward, sometimes dodgy defensively, Belgium will enliven the World Cup, whether or not they win it. In the truest tradition of Martinez teams, they were flawed but hugely entertaining.

Regardless of whether the side end up with silverware, their record scorer could leave Russia with a personal prize. Martinez had claimed Lukaku was not focused on the Golden Boot. He may win it, anyway. He joined Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the leaderboard with his second successive double. He may have overhauled the Portuguese had he not been withdrawn with half an hour to go. By then, Lukaku had already surpassed Jan Ceulemans, a stalwart of three World Cups, as Belgium’s leading scorer in major tournaments.

He could savour a change of fortune. He had an underwhelming World Cup in 2014, mustering a lone goal. He is more clinical now, scoring with each of his first four shots on target. His first goal, and Belgium’s second, was angled into the far corner from 15 yards. Dries Mertens had supplied him as Tunisia were caught on the break. A delicate dink followed after Thomas Meunier split a shambolic defence with a through ball.

Hazard had already opening the scoring, converting the penalty after he was bundled over by Syam Ben Youssef. His second was an illustration of the outstanding Kevin de Bruyne’s ability to unlock defences from deep, his through ball allowing Hazard to scurry through, flick the ball past goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha and slot the ball into the unguarded net.

His replacement Michy Batshuayi added a fifth, though only after having an effort cleared off the line by Yassine Meriah and slamming a shot against the bar in a profligate cameo. Belgium were wasteful – an accusation that has been levelled against previous Martinez sides – but creative as they fashioned a host of chances. Unlike against Panama, they began brightly, intimidating with their ability. They sprang Tunisia’s offside trap time and again. Meunier and Mertens formed a potent partnership on the right, each displaying fine movement. Yet their wing-backs operated like wingers, leaving space behind them.

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It was a reason why Tunisia had so many opportunities. Anice Badri had a series of shots. Wahbi Khazri eventually scored in injury time and had troubled Belgium with his dead-ball prowess. Their earlier goal was far from the first time a Martinez side have looked disorganised in defence or been found wanting at set-pieces. Dylan Bronn had met Khazri’s free kick with a glancing header.

It was a bittersweet occasion for Bronn, who was carried off on a stretcher seven minutes after scoring. Tunisia lost their major talent, Youssef Msakni, before the World Cup, their first-choice goalkeeper in the opening game and two defenders by half time in the second. If they were luckless, they were also hapless at the back.

It was hard to say if their full-backs were worse than their central defenders or vice versa and, unlike some of the minnows who had displayed resilience at first, they have specialised in disastrous starts: a goal down after 11 minutes against England, two adrift after 16 versus Belgium. They could have scored more but were fortunate not to concede at least two others. Such is the nature of Martinez’s Belgium.