Belgium cruises to victory over Panama

Belgium cruises to victory over Panama

But a victory will do for a team who are, on paper at least, good enough to go far in Russian Federation, especially after heavyweights Germany, Brazil and Argentina all slipped up over the weekend. On paper, the battle between the two teams is a complete mismatch but if the tournament's first few days are anything to go by, it is safe to say that no team can be written off in advance. "It is nearly a mental blow for one team and it gives you a lot of breathing space for your first game in the tournament, and I thought from that point on we were more ourselves, more in control". It's their first time in the World Cup and they were clearly enjoying it. "We grew in the second half and now we have to take it to the next game and grow into that". "What they did in the first half, they deserve huge credit, and my players deserve credit for what they did in the second half".

To be fair to Martinez, the Spaniard had warned on the eve of this game that his side would not have it easy. Jaime Penedo will start between the post for the Central Americans, while Escobar, Torres and Machado will lead the central defensive line for them. Blas Perez then wasted a good opportunity, checking back when he seemed to have a clear run on goal and firing wide - and those misses proved fatal. Coach Hernan Dario Gomez is wary of Belgium's firepower and will be anxious for his side to keep things tight at the back, especially since neighbours Costa Rica suffered a heavy 4-1 loss to the European hopefuls in a friendly just a week ago.

"Nobody likes losing", said Gomez. "I was extremely happy, very nervous, very anxious". However, in the second half, the gulf in class finally showed as a Dries Mertens' wonder goal and a brace from Romelu Lukaku secured victory for the Red Devils.

The first-half proceedings did not come as a major surprise, as Panama stuck together and worked for each other in building a wall that Belgium's talented individuals were unable to breach.

Panama captain Roman Torres had his head down, eyes closed, engrossed in the realization of a dream.

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The expectation was that Belgium would cruise from there, given the grip that it had had on the game throughout, but Panama almost grabbed an equalizer in the 55th minute when Edgar Barcenas' lofted ball found Michael Murillo alone on goal, forcing Thibaut Courtois to come up with a point-blank save.

Panama also had more success when Barcenas tucked inside and got on the ball, so it was curious to see him as one of the players brought off midway through the second half.

Hazard found Kevin De Bruyne, and his sumptuous cross with the outside of the right boot was headed in by Lukaku.

Martinez's golden generation have been tipped as potential champions, but Belgium - beaten by Wales in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals - will likely need to improve on an often-underwhelming performance when they face stronger opposition.

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