Belgium hammered Russia 3-0 in their opening match of Group B. Romelulu Lukaku scored two goals — leading the Golden Boot race — and Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois kept a clean sheet. Roberto Martinez team played with controlled possession, limited transitions, and fed their big striker. The Red Devil’s 3-4-3 formation helped facilitate their build up out of the back and put players like Carrasco and Mertens in dangerous positions within the final third.
Thibaut Courtois started in net for Belgium, but had very little to do over the course of 90 minutes. The keeper managed one point blank save in the first half from a Mario Fernandez header off a corner kick. That was the only save Courtois had to make all game. He commanded his area well and was confident off his line to pick off any wayward crosses or dangerous balls into the box from Russia who were searching for the head of their target forward, Dyzuba.
Eden Hazard, who is still working his way back into fitness, did not start the match but managed to play 20 minutes. Entering in the 72nd minute for Dries Merten, Hazard played in his customary left wing position within Belgium’s 3-4-3.
There were some positive moments from Hazard. After being caught in possession twice and taking some uncharacteristically heavy touches when he first entered, Hazard gradually grew into the game. Madrid’s #7, had a lovely turn in the 81st minute, before getting hacked down by Mukhin. Belgium managed to retain possession and continued forward. Only a few minutes later, Hazard produced another inventive turn to create space for himself on the wing and feed a pass down the line. Those moments will help Hazard regain his confidence and feel like a footballer again.
Belgium came into the tournament as one of the favorites. If Lukaku can keep his goal-scoring form, if Courtois can produce some game-changing saves, and De Bruyne, as well as Hazard, can manage to come back to full fitness, then Belgium’s chances of triumphing at this tournament increase by the day. A 3-0 statement win helps kickstart their Euro campaign and Madrid fans will be hoping to see more of their two stars.