Gritty World Cup debutants Panama held Belgium goalless in the first half but faltered in the second as Red Devils proved their class and beat them 3-0 in the Group G opener in Sochi on Monday.
Panamanians proved to the large number of supporters who cheered their every move at Fisht Stadium that they are a tough nut to crack. But they began to break as the talents of Belgian players came to the fore in the second half with Dries Mertens (pictured) scoring a brilliant goal in the 47th minute followed by two more by Romelu Lukaku.
Yannick Carrasco and Mertens missed chances in the early part of the game. Panama’s captain Roman Torres almost gifted a goal to striker Eden Hazard whose shot just missed the post.
While Belgium’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was hardly tested, his Panamanian counterpart Jaime Penedo frustrated strikers Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Lukaku by pulling off some wonderful saves.
Panama suffered the first blow in the second minute of the second half. Torres tried to head away a cross in the penalty area and Mertens’ volley went past Penedo into the net.
In the 55th minute, Belgium’s Carrasco left Michael Murillo with only goalkeeper Courtois to beat. But Murillo’s shot hit the keeper’s left leg and deflected. Torres’ header following the corner went wide.
Belgium scored their second goal in the 69th minute when Lukaku headed home a pinpointed cross from De Bruyne. The third goal came in the 75th minute. Hazard played to Lukaku who raced to Panama’s goalmouth with no one to challenge and tapped it home past a helpless Penedo.