MOSCOW (Reuters) - Two goals each for Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard helped Belgium to a 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia on Saturday that showcased their attacking verve and star quality and put them firmly on course for the World Cup knockout phase.
Michy Batshuayi came off the bench to add a late fifth but it was by no means all plain sailing for Roberto Martinez’s side and they will be aware that they will need to tighten up at the back considerably if they are to finally make a push to a major tournament summit after so many false dawns.
Despite topping Group G with six points and a goal difference of plus-six there is still the slimmest of chances Belgium might yet not qualify, though even a heavy defeat in their final game against England would be extremely unlikely to derail them.
An English victory over Panama on Sunday would send England and Belgium through while a draw would be enough to confirm Belgium’s progress.
England have three points, with Panama and Tunisia on nought. Tunisia, also without a point after two matches having extended their 40-year World Cup winless run to 13 games, are also still in with a theoretical chance of making it on through three points - for a day at least.
“It’s not easy to score that amount of goals in two games,” said Martinez, as his team impressively followed up their 3-0 opening win over Panama and helped Russia 2018 set a World Cup record for 27 tournament games without a goalless draw.
“We had to suffer in spells but when we were in full flow going forward, we look really sharp. On top you have the talent and the quality but since we came together it’s been a joy to see a group of players working so hard.”
Martinez said Lukaku and Hazard, who were withdrawn in the second half, and midfielder Dries Mertens, had slight injuries and could be among a series of changes for the England game.
In Saturday’s clash, Belgium were much the better team from the off but they were seriously aided and abetted by some ragged defending and non-existing marking from their opponents, epitomized after six minutes when Syam Ben Youssef needlessly crashed into Hazard to concede a penalty, which the captain calmly converted.
Mertens seized on another error to set up Lukaku to plant the second goal into the corner 10 minutes later.
Tunisia hit back quickly with a Dylan Bronn header as Belgium’s own sometimes shaky defending was exposed but another misplaced Tunisian pass enabled Thomas Meunier to feed Lukaku to make it 3-1 in stoppage time.
Following his double against Panama it took the him to four goals for the tournament, level with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and made him Belgium’s highest scorer at a single World Cup – after one-and-a-half games.
An inch-perfect Kevin de Bruyne pass sent Hazard clear for a his brilliantly-finished second six minutes after the restart.
Batshuayi then had a remarkable last 20 minutes as he managed to blow three great chances in a row before finally finding the target in the 90th with a good finish.
There was still time for Tunisia to earn a reward for their positive approach is as Wahbi Khazri scored in stoppage time.
“We lost the ball in places where we shouldn’t have, and when they had the ball, they hurt us,” said Tunisia defender Syam Ben Youssef.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber editing by Christian Radnedge