Lukaku answers Russian critics in ruthless fashion     

Romelu Lukaku reminded many, with the notable and perhaps obvious exception of thousands of Russia fans, what is uplifting about 'the beautiful game.'
Lukaku answers Russian critics in ruthless fashion     

Belgium's Dedryck Boyata challenges Russia's Artem Dzyuba at the Saint Petersburg stadium. (Anton Vaganov/Pool via AP)

Euro 2020 Group B

Belgium 3

Russia 0

ROMELU LUKAKU needed only one shot, one gesture and five words to put a smile back on the face of football fans around Europe in a match which was nearly cancelled in the wake of Christian Eriksen's near death experience earlier in the night.

Belgium striker Lukaku reminded many, with the notable and perhaps obvious exception of thousands of Russia fans, what is uplifting about 'the beautiful game.'

The pre-match atmosphere was subdued to say the least as Lukaku took a knee and raised a fist in defiance at the standing Russian side as he was booed with his team-mates by what sounded like the majority of the 30,000 in Zenit's St Petersburg stadium.

Then he let his feet do the talking by setting the world's top ranked team on their way to victory with a clinical finish before shouting into a television camera 'Chris, Chris, I love you.'

That was his message to Eriksen, the Inter Milan team-mate with whom he has marked his first season in Italian football by winning the Serie A title.

The relief was tangible and this sudden resumption of Euro 2020 action was the best way to move on from the pain and anguish for Eriksen's safety felt throughout the football community.

Add to that the pressure on Lukaku to be his country's most important player in the absence of key injured duo Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne and it is easy to understand why the former Chelsea and Manchester United forward was feeling so emotional.

Aside from Lukaku, Belgium had Eriksen's former Tottenham friend Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in action.

Emotions were clearly running high for manager Roberto Martinez, who held an extremely brief pre-match chat in which he intimated he thought the match could have been postponed before saying “It was a real shock.

“Straight away, we have teammates in that dressing and players who have shared a lot of time with Eriksen. There is a real sense to send our empathy. We hope he has a full speed of recovery."

Even without two of their best players, Belgium are expected to go deep into if not win this tournament and justify their golden generation of hugely talented players.

Winning in Russia was a sound enough opening statement and they are now clear favourites to win this group with games to come against Denmark and Finland.

Russia looked to make the most of their home advantage on a decent start before Lukaku struck after only ten minutes.

Andrei Semenov buckled under pressure as he let a harmless enough cross squirm through his legs to Lukaku, who quickly assumed control and sent keeper Anton Shunin the wrong way with a low left foot shot.

Lukaku, who scored four goals in the 2018 World Cup finals here, has now netted 22 times in 19 internationals since then.

Pair that with his prowess in Italy and it is no wonder new Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel wants to break the bank to bring the 28-year-old back to London.

Belgium, without being brilliant, could now play with freedom and continued to look relaxed and in control despite losing Timothy Castagne to a nasty head injury not long before half-time.

Shunin, who never recovered from conceding the opener, gifted Castagne's replacement substitute Thomas Meunier their second goal by parrying a weak save into his path.

It was another simple but clinical finish and no more than their attacking intent deserved.

Russia never recovered and rarely threatened after the break – the crowd's boos now focussed on their own players.

And it was fitting Lukaku finished the night in style with an even better finish in the 88th minute.

BELGIUM: Courtois 6, Alderweireld 6, Boyata 6, Vertonghen 6 (Vermaelen 77), Tielemans 7, Lukaku 8, Carrasco 6 (Praet 77), Mertens 6 (E.Hazard 72), T Hazard 6, Dendoncker 7, Castagne 6 (Meunier 27). Subs: Mignolet, Sels, Denayer, Benteke, Chadli, Batshuayi, Trossard, Doku.

RUSSIA: Shunin 4, Fernandes 6, Semenov 5, Ozdoev 5, Barinov 5 (Diveev 45), Zobnin 6, Dzhikiya 6, Golovin 6, Zhirkov 5 (Karavaev 43), Dzyuba 6, Kuzyaev 5 (Cheryshev 29, Al Miranchuk 63). Subs: Dyupin, Safonov, Diveev, Karavaev, Sobolev, Zabolotny, Zhemaletdinov, Ionov, Evgenyev, Mukhin.

Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz (Spain) 6.

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