On a memorable football day, Belgium underpinned its co-favorite role in the European Championship and stopped the Russian party on the national holiday.
Just a few hours after the dramatic collapse of Denmark's Christian Eriksen, who is now "awake" and stable again, the Belgians defeated the co-hosts 3-0 (2-0) on Saturday evening and played in front of 26,264 spectators in St. Petersburg proof of its own great class.
Romelu Lukaku (10th / 88th minute) and substitute Thomas Meunier (34th) from Dortmund ensured clear conditions and gave the Red Devils the desired smooth start to the pan-European tournament. Due to injury, they had to do without star player Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) and Dortmund's Axel Witsel. In the first game of Group B - which was interrupted for a long time due to the serious incident - outsiders Finland had previously won 1-0 (0-0) against Denmark.
When top player Eriksen suddenly collapsed at 6.43 p.m. in Copenhagen, it was unclear how things would go on with the EM day and the evening game in Russia. Only when the 29-year-old professional gave the all-clear did the show in St. Petersburg continue unchecked. The rituals and ceremonies before the game, loud music from the boxes, booing of the opponent when walking in and kneeling before kick-off: If you hadn't heard the news from the group's second game, Belgium and Russia would have had little or nothing on them shocking scene indicated earlier.
“The players found out about this when they got on the bus that went to the stadium.
The information spread quickly.
But when we got into the arena, there was news that the Dane was coming to, ”said the press service of the Russian Sbornaya.
"Now the players are focused exclusively on the upcoming match."
It started right on time - even though they were still playing in Copenhagen.
Russia started aggressive and determined, upsetting the Belgians early on.
With loud “Rossija” shouts, the fans lashed out at the team in the well-filled arena.
But it quickly became quiet in the football temple.
The reason for this was once again the exception Lukaku.
The 28-year-old punished a bitter mistake by defender Andrei Semjonow and shot with his left to take the lead. Then he called “I love you, Chris” on a TV camera and said hello to Eriksen, his club colleague at Inter Milan. Lukaku had already scored goals at the 2018 World Cup (four), the 2016 European Championship (two) and the 2014 World Cup (one).
After that a lively game developed with chances on both sides. A header from Russia's Mario Fernandes (11th) almost equalized, after which Belgium's Leander Dendoncker (18th) and BVB professional Thorgan Hazard (23rd) had the chance to increase. This was only achieved by Joker Meunier, who came into play with a head injury to Timothy Castagne and only seven minutes later profited from a mistake by Russia's Anton Schunin. The preliminary decision had already been made for the world number one.
As in the qualification (3: 1 and 4: 1 for Belgium), the team of coach Roberto Martínez simply had too much individual quality for the Russians.
When the initial pressure was over, the Red Devils presented themselves quite ripped off even without De Bruyne and Witsel and controlled the ball and opponents loosely at times.
After the break, the Russians got a little better, but never really dangerous.
Lukaku scored his second goal just before the end.
After two quarter-finals (2014, 2016) and third place at the 2018 World Cup, the fourth attempt should finally be the big coup for the golden generation of Belgians around Lukaku and captain Eden Hazard (Real Madrid ) succeed.
The start of this mission has already been successful.