MX23RW : Wednesday, September 26 11:11:02
Jun 18, 2018 at 4pm UK at ​Fisht Olympic Stadium
Attendance: 43,257
Belgium
3-0
PanamaPanama
Mertens (47'), Lukaku (69', 75')
Meunier (14'), Vertonghen (59'), De Bruyne (88')
FT(HT: 0-0)

Davis (18'), Barcenas (45'), Cooper (49'), Murillo (51'), Godoy (57')

Live Commentary: Belgium 3-0 Panama - as it happened

Live Commentary: Belgium 3-0 Panama - as it happened
© Reuters
Relive how Belgium eventually put away Panama with a 3-0 win in Sochi, courtesy of Sports Mole's minute-by-minute updates of the World Cup Group G encounter.

A flurry of second-half goals secured Belgium a 3-0 win over Panama in their opening World Cup Group G game at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi this afternoon.

The Central Americans, appearing at the Finals for the first time, made it to half time on parity thanks to a couple of good saves from 36-year-old goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.

Dries Mertens broke the deadlock on 47 minutes with an eye-catching volley, and eight minutes later Michael Murillo spurned Panama's best chance when his one-on-one was saved by Thibaut Courtois.

Two goals in six minutes from Romelu Lukaku sealed victory for the Red Devils, with Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard laying on an assist each.

Relive how the action unfolded with Sports Mole's minute-by-minute updates below.


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3.00pmIt is only a matter of hours before England's World Cup campaign begins as they take on Tunisia in Sochi, but before that their Group G rivals Belgium face debutants Panama. So put 'Three Lions' on mute for a minute and join us for minute-by-minute updates from the Fisht Olympic Stadium...

3.02pmBELGIUM: Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco; Mertens, Lukaku, Hazard
Subs: To follow...

3.04pmPANAMA: Penedo; Murillo, Escobar, Torres, Davis; Gomez; Godoy, Cooper, Barcenas, Rodriguez; Perez
Subs: To follow...

3.06pmThe Red Devils are many peoples' dark horses to lift the World Cup this summer, and with a starting lineup like that, it is easy to see why. Boasting defensive solidity, creative flair and a top-class goalscorer, Belgium might just have the most best balanced team at the whole tournament.

3.08pmManager Roberto Martinez names six Premier League players in his side, but Vincent Kompany is not one of them. The Manchester City captain, equally influential for his country, misses out with a groin injury, so that is one massive piece of Belgium's potential World Cup-winning jigsaw missing.

3.10pmIn Kompany's absence, Celtic defender Dedryck Boyata deputises in the back three alongside Tottenham Hotspur pair Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who will be hoping to use this worldwide platform to earn a major summer move as contract talks have stalled in North London.

3.12pmEden Hazard skippers the side from the left of a front three which is spearheaded by Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku, and the Chelsea playmaker is joined in the lineup by club teammate Thibaut Courtois. The other Premier League player? Oh, just the small matter of Kevin De Bruyne.

3.14pmPlaying in China has not hampered Axel Witsel's international career, with the 29-year-old midfielder preferred as the sitter ahead of Tottenham's Mousa Dembele and United's (soon to be Arsenal's, if reports are to be believed), Marouane Fellaini. Roma's Champions League semi-finalist Radja Nainggolan didn't even make the squad, a decision which was met by protests back in Belgium!

3.16pmAnother Red Devil plying his trade in the Far East is Yannick Carrasco, the winger-turned wing-back who will be asked to take on a lot more defensive responsibility this afternoon than he would at club level. If there is one area Panama can target, it may be in behind the former Atletico Madrid man.

3.18pmPanama's group of relative unknowns could not be more different to Belgium's star-studded squad. Of their 23, only foward Ismael Diaz plays in one of Europe's major leagues, and Deportivo La Coruna were relegated from La Liga last season. Diaz doesn't even make the starting XI, though.

3.20pmOne name which may be familiar is that of Roman Torres, the centre-back whose goal against Costa Rica in CONCACAF qualifying booked Panama's ticket to their first ever World Cup, at the expense of the Americans. That goal in October resulted in a National Holiday being declared!

3.22pmTorres has been struggling in the build-up to Russia with a hamstring problem but has shaken it off to be fit for their Group G opener. However, star winger Alberto Quintero has not been so lucky, having been ruled out of the whole tournament with a fractured foot.

3.24pmWithout Quintero, there is a chance for Gent winger Jose Luis Rodriguez out wide. Here is the moment that he learned he was going to the World Cup...


3.26pmRodriguez is one of the few youngsters in Panama's squad, which is the fifth oldest at the 2018 World Cup with an average age of 28.9 years. They have a lot of international experience in the team, but nothing at this sort of level. Belgium will be like nobody they have ever faced before...

3.28pmWhile this is Panama's first outing at a World Cup, their manager Hernan Dario Gomez has already been to two tournaments, having coached his native Colombia in 1998 and Ecuador in 2002. On neither occasion did his team's get through the group stages, losing to England 20 years ago.

3.30pmGomez's teams play in a very physical style which they may try to use to upset the Belgians. The likes of Hazard, who has been the Premier League's most fouled player in three of the last four seasons, will be used to that treatment and is one player that the Central Americans may target.

3.32pmPanama's journey to Russia is remarkable enough, but is even more surprising considering that they only won three of their 10 matches in the final qualifying stage and ended with a negative goal difference. Their top scorers were Gabriel Torres and Roman Torres with just two apiece.

3.34pmRoman Torres is one of four players in the Panama lineup with over 100 international caps. Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, who plays for Dinamo Bucharest in Romania, has made 131 appearances for his country and might be in for a busy afternoon if Lukaku, Mertens and company are on song.

3.36pmWhile Panama found goals hard to come by in qualifying, Belgium set a new joint European record of 43 goals scored, with 11 from Lukaku - two more than the Panamanians managed in total.

3.38pmLukaku has scored 13 goals in his last nine international appearances including two in their most recent friendly against Costa Rica, a friendly which was set up to test them against Central American opposition. The United striker is already his country's all-time leading scorer at 25 years old.

3.40pmThe Red Devils were the first team from Europe to confirm their place in Russia, and one of four unbeaten teams in European qualifying, alongside Germany, Spain and England, against whom they are likely to decide the fate of Group G. A reminder, England face Tunisia tonight, just in case you'd forgotten.

3.42pmAnd when they reach the Finals, Belgium are pretty difficult to beat too as they unbeaten in their last nine World Cup group games, winning each of their last four. They have made it to the second round in six of their last seven World Cup appearances, the only exception coming in 1998.

3.44pmBelgium have also only lost one of their last nine opening games at the World Cup (W5, D3), which was against Mexico in 1986. Their best result was in 1970, when they beat El Salvador 3-0.

3.46pmStrangely, all of Belgium's last eight goals at the World Cup have all been scored from the 70th minute onwards. If that sequence is not stopped today, Panama will be absolutely thrilled.

3.48pmWhile Panama may be content with simply avoiding an embarrassing defeat on their World Cup bow, the performances of the other minnows in Russia so far should give them hope. Fellow debutants Iceland held Argentina to a 1-1 draw on Saturday, while Germany and Brazil have also been tamed already.

3.50pmAround 10 minutes until kickoff now in Sochi, where we are under the watch of Zambian officials led by referee Janny Sikazwe. No more VAR drama please. There was more of it in today's early kickoff where Sweden beat South Korea 1-0 with the aid of a controversial penalty.

Secondary school teacher Sikazwe makes history by becoming the first Zambian referee to officiate at a World Cup.


3.52pmBENCH WATCH: Dembele, Batshuayi, Chadli, Januzaj - a depth of quality runs right through Belgian's squad, although Thomas Vermaelen has been left behind at their Moscow training base because of a knee problem. Martinez will hope that he does not need an impact sub today.

3.54pmAn omen? The Panama players were just giving their national anthem the full Van Halen treatment. Absolutely belting it out, and I am sure that passion will be reproduced on the pitch.


3.56pmThis match is under the watch of Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe, who makes history by becoming the first Zambian to officiate at a World Cup. Back home, Sikazwe is a secondary school teacher. He better hope he doesn't make a mistake today as kids that age can be very unforgiving!

3.58pmPREDICTION: There have been a few upsets at the World Cup already, but I can only see Belgium bucking that trend here. Panama do not carry much of an attacking threat at all, and that will allow Martinez's side to pour forward at will and put them to the sword by three or four.

1 minKICKOFF: The action is underway at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, constructed for the 2014 Winter Olympics and now playing host to another major sporting occasion. A more than worthy venue...

2 minDe Bruyne finds an early hole in the Panama defence to release Carrasco to the left byline. His cutback is aimed at Lukaku, but Torres gets to the ball first and clears against the United striker and behind for a corner.

4 minLeft-back Eric Davis gets sucked upfield and does not take any chances, clattering into De Bruyne from behind in the opposition half. Belgium's ball-players might have to get used to that sort of physical treatment.

6 minCHANCE! Carrasco is again found in space on the left edge of the area. The winger tries to open up his body to curl a first-time right-footed shot into the far corner, only to hit it straight at Penedo.

8 minSAVE! Penedo is stretched a little more here as the ball is worked to Mertens, who shoots from 20 yards out but not with enough power to really trouble the goalkeeper who pushes the ball to safety.

10 minThe pattern of the game has already been set, and it looks encouraging for Belgium and ominous for Panama. The only time the minnows have ventured forward was when Edgar Barcenas dragged a hopeful left-footed shot wide from the edge of the box.

12 minMISS! Roman Torres nearly lost his national hero status there with a short back-pass which was picked up by Hazard, who was rushed for time but may have expected to squeeze a shot through Penedo from a tight angle, rather than into the side-netting. That is a really good chance.

14 minYELLOW! The Zambian official goes to his pocket early to book Belgium's Thomas Meunir for apparently catching Rodriguez with a wayward arm. There was minimal contact though and the Paris Saint-Germain full-back can count himself unlucky to be cautioned.

16 minBarcenas gets the Panamanian fans, of which there appears to be quite a few in Sochi, or at least they are making it sound that way, on their feet with a dribble down the right which Vertonghen halts at the second attempt. Had a magnificent season at Spurs, the 31-year-old defender.

18 minYELLOW! Mr. Sikazwe, as his pupils may call him, evens the yellow card count up by cautioning Davis for his role in sandwiching Mertens by the right touchline. The Dunajska Streda defender looks like he loves a tackle but he will have to control himself now.

19 minCLOSE! Panama switch off from a corner and De Bruyne simply rolls it into the path of Mertens into the box. The Napoli striker shifts and shoots but into the side-netting, and I think Penedo had it covered anyway.

21 minTorres comes to the rescue for Panama with a crucial last-ditch intervention to deny Lukaku a simple tap-in. De Bruyne had pinched the ball in the final third and knocked the ball to the back post where Lukaku was coiled to shoot before Torres stretched out a leg and directed it behind for a corner.

22 minThe Red Devils again go short from the corner but taker De Bruyne fires over the crossbar from 25 yards out after collecting a return pass.

24 minA delightful touch around the corner from Hazard takes two defenders out of the game and nearly releases Meunir, but Panama defender Escobar comes across to clear out the ball and man.

26 minThese two should know each other inside out by now then, which may explain why Panama have not yet made the Belgium defence sweat at all. They are holding firm at 0-0 though...


28 minArmando Cooper and Gabriel Gomez, who is Panama's all-time leading appearance maker with 141, have each been down for treatment in the last couple of minutes, which has prevented Belgium from getting up a new head of steam. Gomez has been waiting for this moment for 15 years. He's not about to go off.

30 minAlderweireld pings a beautiful diagonal forward, the kind of which serves the likes of Dele Alli so well at Spurs, and Torres is at full stretch to head behind for a corner with Lukaku lurking. Some of Belgium's passing so far has not been very progressive so it doesn't hurt to go direct now and again.

32 minBelgium's passing has been sloppy at times, with De Bruyne an unlikely culprit. Here, Carrasco gives the ball away on the halfway line but makes a good recvoery run to win the ball back. His defensive capabilities will be tested much more in bigger games but he showed application there.

34 minPanama have their first World Cup corner, earned by Rodriguez who crosses the ball against Alderweireld after a well-worked move. Poster boy Torres comes up but the floated delivery is headed away by Witsel.

36 minLukaku may have been hoping to have a goal or two by now and his frustration at a lack of service shows here as he drags Torres to ground while try to get on the end of a cross from De Bruyne.

38 minSAVE! Hazard has looked the most likely to make something happen for Belgium, and he turns and drives into the box before letting off a low shot which Penedo palms around his post.

40 minPenedo is called upon again when he rushes off his line to thwart Lukaku from a Hazard through-ball. Belgian do eventually get a corner, from which Mertens fires a volley wide from De Bruyne's superb pick out.

42 minSHOT! Panama put together arguably the best move of the match, passing the ball through midfield to set up a shooting chance for Cooper, whose 25-yard effort was only a few yards high.

44 minHazard releases Mertens on the overlap but his weak cross is straight against a defender.

45+1 minYELLOW! Referee Sikazwe has been pretty strict on fouls so far but any referee would have given a yellow for this assault committed by Edgar Barcenas, who throws Carrasco to the ground in a desperate attempt not to let him lead a stoppage-time counter.

45+2 minHALF TIME: BELGIUM 0-0 PANAMA

4.52pmFew would have predicted this half-time scoreline, with the well-fancied, star-studded Belgian being held at 0-0 by lowly debutants Panama. The Red Devils started brightly but have found an equal so far in Panama, who even grew into game as the break approached. They couldn't, could they?

4.54pmThis is the seventh of 13 matches at this World Cup which has been 0-0 at the break. However, none of those games have finished goalless, and remember, Belgium's last eight World Cup goals have all come after the 70th minute.

4.56pmSTATS: Check out the first-half stats from Sochi in our all-new live stats centre.Your text to link... Spoiler: Belgium have had 62% possession, which is actually less than might have been anticipated, and has not been in the most dangerous areas.

4.58pmAs if to illustrate my point, Alderweireld and Boyata played over 1/3 of Belgium's passes in the first half. De Bruyne has the next most, but he has been far too deep to have the impact on the match of which he is capable.

5.00pmThree-at-the-back is a very fashionable formation but it may not be necessary for Belgium today. Panama's lone striker - 37-year-old Perez - is not going to stretch a two-man defence and bringing on Dembele for Boyata would allow De Bruyne to move 20 yards up the pitch where he can be the match-winner.

46 minKICKOFF: We are back underway in Sochi but no changes from Martinez yet...

47 minGOAL! BELGIUM 1-0 PANAMA (DRIES MERTENS)

47 minMartinez's patience is vindicated as Belgium take less than two minutes of the second half to break the deadlock, but they owe their lead to a piece of individual brilliance from Mertens, whose instinctive, dipping volley flies over Penedo and inside the far post. Panama had squandered a couple of chance to clear the ball and the Napoli forward has made them pay in the most spectacular fashion.

49 minYELLOW! Panama must ensure that they keep their heads here. Cooper has just picked up a yellow for a cynical trip on Hazard as he led a four-man Belgium break. Suddenly there is pace and movement to this Belgian attack.

51 minYELLOW! Right-back Murillo joins his teammate in the book for taking a chunk out of Carrasco. It could be a double punishment for Panama too with De Bruyne lining up the 30-yard free kick.

52 minSHOT! The Manchester City star has Penedo scrambling to his right but his shot bends the wrong side of the upright, from a Belgian perspective.

54 minA word on Mertens, whose late-career transition into a central forward has been a stroke of genius. The 31-year-old has scored 46 Serie A goals in the last two seasons and now has another at a World Cup to add to his resume, after his strike against Algeria back in Belo Horizonte in 2014.

55 minCHANCE! Panama aren't likely to get a better opportunity to equalise than that, with Carrasco completely neglecting his defensive duties to allow right-back Murillo to latch onto a chipped through ball. He hesitates and Courtois comes off his line to make a vital block.

57 minBelgium's goal has opened this game up, and although that will suit the likes of Hazard and De Bruyne, it does make that left-side more vulnerable to Panama's counter-attacks if Carrasco is going to continue to show the lack of defensive awareness that he did a moment ago.

59 minSHOT! Barcenas has been Panama's best player so far and the attacking midfielder breaks the lines here to get the wrong side of Alderweireld. He turns back on himself and tries a right-footed shot which goes a few yards wide.

61 minLukaku's first touch lets him down when a better one would have teed up a one-on-one with Penedo.

62 minTorres lazily sticks out a leg to intercept a Mertens cross, succeeding only in flicking the ball just over his own crossbar for a corner, from which Vertonghen wins the header but is penalised for a foul.

64 minSUBSTITUTIONS: Hernan Dario Gomez makes a double change, replacing Rodriguez and Barcenas, who have arguably been his two most dangerous attackers, with Ismael Diaz and Gabriel Torres on in their place.

66 minWe are up to seven yellow cards in total now, with midfielder Anibal Godoy having followed four of his Panama pals into the book for dissent, and Vertonghen having joined Meunier on the naughty list.

68 minMeunier drops a cross into an inviting area for Lukaku to run onto but Penedo beats him to the punch.

69 minGOAL! BELGIUM 2-0 PANAMA (ROMELU LUKAKU)

69 minBelgium have breathing space now thanks to a well-worked goal that is finished off by Lukaku. Hazard's jinking run creates space for De Bruyne, whose delicious outside-of-the-foot cross is steered home by the Red Devils striker from six yards out. That should be that.

72 minSUBSTITUTION: Panama's final change sees 37-year-old Blas Perez make way for 36-year-old Luis Tejada, his country's all-time leading goalscorer with 43 goals in 104 caps, up front.

74 minSUBSTITUTION: Mousa Dembele is not a bad player to bring on to protect a 2-0 lead. Yannick Carrasco makes way, which could prompt a system change to experiment with 4-4-2.

76 minGOAL! BELGIUM 3-0 PANAMA (ROMELU LUKAKU)

76 minIt is a third for Belgium, and a second for Lukaku as Panama are caught short at the back, with Hazard slipping in the goalscorer in the left channel for a cute dink over the onrushing Peneda.

78 minRegardless of the scoreline, the stadium would erupt for a Panama goal and they had half an opening there when Gabriel Torres crossed just in front of the desperate dive of Tejada.

80 min

82 minHazard, who is about to be joined on the pitch by his brother, sends a free kick straight against the wall. Plenty of room for improvement for Belgium, with set pieces being one of those areas.

84 minSUBSTITUTION: On comes Thorgan Hazard, with Dries Mertens making way for the final six minutes. It was a wonderful volley from the Napoli forward which started this second-half flurry.

86 minPanama get a sniff of a late equaliser but Courtois comes out to deny Tejada a dream World Cup goal.

88 minYELLOW! De Bruyne makes it eight bookings in total by going in with a high boot on Tejada.

90 minSUBSTITUTION: We are going to see Nacer Chadli for the FOUR minutes of stoppage time. The winger missed much of West Bromwich Albion's relegation campaign through injury.

90+2 minIt doesn't look as though Panama are going to get their World Cup goal today, but they have kept Courtois on his toes with a couple of late efforts, Escobar firing a low free-kick at the Chelsea stopper's near post.

90+4 minFULL TIME: BELGIUM 3-0 PANAMA

6.03pmJob done for Belgium, who were pretty sluggish in the first half but came good in the second with a flurry of high-quality goals, including two for Romelu Lukaku who is off to an excellent start. Panama were game in the first half but I'd be surprised if they get a point from their Group G campaign.

6.05pmThat's it from me, but DO NOT GO ANYWHERE, because England's campaign gets underway against Tunisia at 7pm and we have all the build up and the action covered through my colleague Matt Law here. Football is coming home...

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Eden Hazard in action for Belgium on June 2, 2018
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