Group G, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
Belgium 3, Panama 0
It took a little while, but Belgium finally looked like the World Cup favorite we all thought it would be as the Panamanians wilted in the second half. The Red Devils have now scored at least three goals in seven of their last nine matches.
Los Canaleros have no reason to hang their heads after their first-ever World Cup match. Panama was able to frustrate the Belgians for about the first 55 minutes of the game with their rough-and-tumble style, but it proved impossible to keep up over the course of an entire match in Sochi’s humid conditions.
Belgium: vs. Tunisia in Moscow, June 23.
Panama: vs. England in Nizhny-Novgorod, June 24.
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Mertens’s day is done
Dries Mertens, who got the Belgians going with their first goal, heads to the bench. Thorgan Hazard comes on. Roberto Martinez still has one sub left.
Romelo Lukaku outraces Panama’s defense on a break and easily beats Penedo for his second goal of the game in the 75th minute. This is the Belgium we expected. Now 3-0. Lukaku now has 15 goals in his last 10 international matches.
A diving Romelo Lukaku heads one past Jaime Penedo after Kevin De Bruyne used some nifty footwork to find him in the box in the 70th minute. It’s 2-0, Belgium, which might as well be 12-0 the way it’s going today.
Officials gave the goal a look to make sure Lukaku wasn’t offside, and it was pretty close, but they allowed it.
Subs for Panama
Ismael Diaz and Gabriel Torres enter the game off the bench for Panama in the 63rd minute. Edgar Barcenas and Jose Rodriguez come out.
Panama almost levels it
Michael Murillo sneaked past Belgium’s defense in the 55th minute and was able to get Los Canaleros’ first on-target shot of the game, but Thibaut Courtois parried it away. Red Devils kind of fell asleep there.
Moments later, Anibal Godoy received Panama’s fifth yellow card on the day. The bookings are starting to pile up for the underdogs, and they seem to be getting a little steamed about it.
A header falls to Dries Mertens near the top right corner of the box and he smashes it past Jaime Penedo with a deadly volley in the 47th minute. It’s 1-0, Belgium. Finally.
It’s the best possible halftime situation for Panama, which has rarely threatened to score but has kept Belgium out of the goal despite numerous chances. The Red Devils, for all their firepower, seemed to let up at times due to whatever reason (it’s in the mid-70s in Sochi but it’s also quite humid). Belgium holds edges of 9-3 and 7-2 in shots and corner kicks, respectively, and finished the half at 60 percent possession.
All Belgium, but no goals
Belgium hasn’t let up but hasn’t been able to break through. They have the edge on shots, 7-1, on corner kicks, 6-1, and possession (61 percent). Panama’s rare offensive forays have been brief and fruitless.
In the 38th minute, Eden Hazard dribbled untouched into the box and sent a rocket at Jaime Penedo, who blocked it away. Two minutes later, Dries Mertens threaded one to Romeo Lukaku, who couldn’t corral it before Penedo got to it. Mertens followed with another laser that went wide on a set piece moments later.
Panama’s Eric Davis gets a yellow card for a rough tackle. Belgium gets another good chance on the corner kick that follows.
Belgium’s Thomas Meunier was assessed a yellow card in the 14th minute after running into Jose Rodriguez.
The Red Devils have stepped on the gas early, as expected, with numerous chances starting in the sixth minute. Yannick Carrasco could’ve done better with his attempt, which was easily scooped up by Jaime Penedo. Then Dries Mertens sent in a shot that Penedo had to knock away with his fist.
Then, in the 12th minute, Panama’s Roman Torres got sloppy with a pass back to Penedo. Hazard intercepted it and nearly scored, knocking it into the side of the net. One has to think Belgium is going to get one soon.
Canaleros travel well
It’s the first-ever World Cup game for Panama, and its fans are there for it:
Panama’s players sang the heck out of their national anthem:
Cue ‘Enter Sandman’
Yankees legend Mariano Rivera, a native of Panama and a soccer player in his youth, is on FIFA’s list of “distinguished guests” for Los Canaleros’ opener against Belgium. Rivera apparently has given the team a pep talk:
Some pregame thoughts
Entering the tournament, Panama was the betting favorite to score the fewest goals in Russia, likely for good reason: The defensive-minded Canaleros have scored exactly one goal in five international matches this year. But they also haven’t allowed that many. Apart from a 6-0 loss to Switzerland in March — Coach Hernan Dario Gomez was tinkering with his lineup — Panama has given up just two goals this year. That defense will come in handy against a Belgium squad with perhaps the most feared stable of goal-scorers in the tournament, thanks to Premier League stalwarts Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.
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