Belgium vs Tunisia, World Cup 2018: Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard run riot in display to make England sweat

Belgium 5-2 Tunisia: The true impressiveness of this display wasn’t about the numbers but about Belgium’s spectacular level of attacking play

Miguel Delaney
Spartak Stadium
Saturday 23 June 2018 15:06
Comments
Belgium World Cup profile

The best performance of the World Cup so far, and maybe the best team? The former is hard to say, and the latter dubious, but the figures after Belgium’s 5-2 evisceration of Tunisia do say an awful lot.

It keeps them top of England’s group and likely set to stay there given their goal difference - and maybe because of what the performance means ahead of a showdown for first place in Kaliningrad on Thursday. That performance also ensured what was the second best start of this World Cup after the hosts Russia, something that came because two-goal Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne reached top form, while Romelu Lukaku matched Cristiano Ronaldo as top scorer with four overall after another brace here. And what a brace.

Of course, the true impressiveness of this display wasn’t about the numbers but about the spectacular level of the attacking play.

There were some caveats, but it was mostly a day when everything fell into place, but that was never truer than when - after two big misses and one superb save - substitute Michy Batshuayi finally got his goal to make it five.

It was that kind of day, if also that kind of display from the opposition.

As with England’s opening display, some appreciation for Belgium’s attacking has to be tempered by Tunisia again suffering first-half stage fright.

They again looked nervous from kick-off, they again looked too open, they again committed silly errors that only further facilitated the onslaught. In this case, though, it was a penalty.

It was also even earlier than Harry Kane’s opening goal, coming after just four minutes rather than 11. Syam Ben Youssef took Hazard down, and the playmaker himself stepped up to finish.

It was the 27-year-old’s first World Cup goal, but far from the last time he stepped up and ramped up in this game. What was actually most striking - and, for Gareth Southgate, the most ominous - about Belgium’s entire display was the way, when they really got going, Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne were so exhilarating on the break.

To watch them ensured it almost felt unfair, that one country could be blessed with two playmakers of such quality and at such an age at the same time. For all the criticisms of some of Martinez’s approaches, he seems to have at least found a formation that allows them to flourish together. That has been beyond other similar managers, not least successive Argentina coaches with Leo Messi and Paulo Dybala.

Frighteningly, they are not the only Belgian attackers - or even those currently starring in the Premier League - to be on fine form. Lukaku looks so good, and ensured his finishes looked gorgeous.

Romelu Lukaku is in outstanding goalscoring form

There has been some debate over the potential negative effects of Hazard saying the number-nine “hid” in the first half of the 3-0 win over Panama, as well as an ongoing long-term debate over Lukaku’s exact quality, but this was such a convincing counter-argument to both.

There was first of all the way that the surges of De Bruyne and Hazard offered such glorious support for Lukaku in so many ways.

These were not the half-chances he has occasionally had to feed off at Manchester United, but instead opportunities to display his full range of finishes, opportunities he gleefully took.

The first was a precise and hard finish into the bottom corner, and mostly about such symmetrical technical design. The second was a delightful lift, and mostly about artistic expression and creativity.

Eden Hazard was superb leading Belgium's attack

The second also came from the expression and attacking exuberance of a national right-back, as Thomas Munier showed force by leaping on a loose Tunisia ball, and then showed such subtlety with a neat reverse pass to play in Lukaku.

You could tell he used to be an attacker.

You could also tell that this was a Martinez team, but not just from the attacking. There was also - of course - the suspect defending at set-pieces; and this from a team featuring Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

Because, by the time of Lukaku’s second, Tunisia had already got one back. Wahbi Khazri whipped the ball in well and Dylan Bronn’s header matched the delivery. Khazri himself then got a late consolation.

Wahbi Khazri grabbed a late consolation goal (Getty )

Tunisia did generally show much more attacking thrust and impetus than against England, but it was hard to know whether that was down to Belgian have an inferior defence or the urgent requirement to get a result to prevent elimination.

Belgium also ensured it didn’t really matter, because the quality of their attacking rendered it irrelevant. Hazard similarly rendered three members of the Tunisia team irrelevant with one touch, as he made it 4-1 just after half-time with yet another brilliant goal on the break. That touch took him past the goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha, but also teed the ball up so the onrushing defenders couldn’t get near.

As to whether this attacking set-up will cost them in the future, that is an old question with Martinez. It is fashionable to criticise the Catalan after how things ended at Everton, but here may be unwise. Given the nature of international management right now, he is by far one of the most accomplished and tactically astute coaches of the 32 in Russia, and that could go a long way when linked up with talent like this.

Everything linked up so beautifully for Belgium here, right down to Batshuayi getting his own goal after so many attempts.

Michy Batshuayi scored late on

That could be someway reflective of his side as a whole. After so many attempts, they look like they might be getting it right, too.

They certainly look good, and that looks ominous for England.

This will be a challenge, as Belgium seem very capable of challenging for this trophy outright. It was a performance to make anyone believe, something they clearly do.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in