Dubai: It would have been extremely difficult for both Belgium’s and Russia’s players to try to focus on this clash in St Petersburg having just seen one of their own collapse on the pitch over in Copenhagen and be rushed to hospital. It will have been even harder for Romelu Lukaku.
The striker, and teammate of the stricken Christian Eriksen at Inter Milan, already had hefty expectations placed on his robust shoulders as the Belgians would be relying on his goals to get them through the group but he would have to perform without Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings having been ruled out due to injury. Add the fact that his pal had suffered a heart attack and it would have been easy for Lukaku to down tools.
Coach Roberto Martinez would have been concerned about the impact events in Denmark had on his team but Lukaku stepped up to deliver a masterclass performance.
He guided The Red Devils to a comfortable win and also dedicated his first goal to Eriksen. It was just the performance Belgium were hoping for to get their Euro 2020 campaign off to a flyer. They looked confident and played with a high tempo and could well have scored five or six against a Russian team which was willing yet lacked in real quality.
They silenced the home fans in the 26,264 crowd with a thoroughly professional performance. Belgium, ranked number one in the world, are one of the favourites to go all the way in the tournament and if they don’t do it now, then the golden generation may not get another chance.
The aforementioned De Bruyne and Lukaku not to mention Hazard, Vertonghen, Vermaelen and Alderweireld are not getting any younger. They’re not at the end of their careers but it feels like it is now or never for them.
Things are looking good though as Belgium are unbeaten in 10 games in all competitions and are one of just two European teams to get to the quarter-finals of each of the last three major tournaments.
On the evidence of this match, they may go a couple of steps further this time.