BORDEAUX: Belgium, belatedly, began to live up to their potential as they emerged from a slow-burn start to Euro 2016 by scoring three second-half goals to defeat the Irish Republic 3-0 in Bordeaux in Group E.
Romelu Lukaku also finally found his tournament feet by scoring two of the three goals, sandwiching an effort by Axel Witsel. All the goals exploded in a 27-minute spell of domination which threatens the Irishmen’s very survival in the tournament.
With Italy having beaten both the Belgians and Sweden to win the group, the victory puts Belgium in second place on three points with the Irish and Sweden stuck on a point apiece.
Coach Marc Wilmots made three changes from the line-up who struggled against Italy wth the introductions of Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco provided a threat lacking in their opening outing.
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne kept his place and delivered the 13th-minute corner which Toby Alderweireld headed wide.
De Bruyne then forced a a diving clearance header from John O’Shea before setting up Eden Hazard who shot over the bar before Wes Hoolahan cleared an Alderweireld header off the line.
The inevitable breakthrough arrived three minutes into the second half with De Bruyne crossing from the right and Lukaku shooting home.
Ireland claimed a penalty for a reckless challenge by Alderweireld on Long but within minutes Belgium were further ahead when Witsel headed home a cross from the dangerous Meunier.
It was then Meunier who robbed McClean and sent Hazard clear down the right to provide the cross for Lukaku’s second goal. This was the Red Devils’ biggest winning scoreline at a major international tournament in 46 years.
Chelsea’s Hazard said: “As a team, we had to give a response to everybody who watched the game against Italy. It was good. We really deserved this.”