A dominant display from start to finish saw Belgium pick up a 2-0 victory over Finland in their final Group B fixture at UEFA Euro 2020.
The Red Devils had already secured progress to the next round but needed just one point to guarantee top spot.
Despite progress having been guaranteed, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez still named a relatively full-strength squad, with captain Eden Hazard starting a game for the first time in over a month.
The Belgians expectedly dominated proceedings from the get-go but were let down by uncharacteristic indecision in the final third. On the few occasions that they got their act right, an inspired Lukas Hradecky in the Finland goal kept them at bay.
Finland seemed content to sit back and absorb the pressure. They also defended resolutely to keep out wave after wave of Belgium’s attacks.
Kevin de Bruyne was in inspirational form, and his vision helped slice open the Finnish defense at will. Jeremy Doku was also lively down the flank, but the first half ended goalless.
It was more of the same in the second half, with the only difference being that Finland showed a little more ambition in the attacking third.
Romelu Lukaku had the ball in the back of the net midway through the second half. However, the goal was ruled out for a very marginal offside decision after consultations with the VAR.
Hradecky had been unbeatable for most of the game but was unfortunate to see the ball deflect off his outstretched hand after Thomas Vermaelen’s header had rebounded off the post in the 74th minute.
Lukaku made sure of the result for Belgium when he expertly controlled De Bruyne’s deft pass into his path. He then showed great strength to hold off his marker and place a right-footed finish past Hradecky nine minutes from time.
The victory guaranteed Belgium top spot, while Finland will have to wait to find out their qualification fate.
Here are five talking points from the game.
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#5 Impressive Belgium send statement of warning
Belgium are in the era of a bonafide golden generation and arguably have the most balanced squad on the international scene.
Virtually every position in the team has at least two world-beaters who have proven themselves on the highest stage, and it has been this way for the last six years.
The 2014 World Cup was the tournament where they announced their arrival, and their quarterfinal exit to Argentina was seemingly a platform for bigger things.
A shock quarterfinal exit to Wales followed at Euro 2016, but it was widely expected that the 2018 FIFA World Cup was where Belgium would come good. Despite eliminating Brazil in the last eight, the Benelux nation fell to eventual champions France in the semifinals to suffer yet more heartbreak.
Time is running out for the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne to fulfill their potential on the international scene, and Euro 2020 is arguably their last shot at glory.
Belgium entered the tournament as joint-favorites with France. The manner in which Roberto Martinez’s side saw off their group-stage competition must have sent a statement of intent to their rivals.
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#4 Romelu Lukaku gives a complete striker’s performance
Romelu Lukaku has taken his game to new heights under Antonio Conte’s management, especially with his link-up play and hold-up ability with his back to goal.
This facet of his game has been in full glare throughout the European Championship, especially in the comeback victory over Denmark.
Despite not getting on the scoresheet, the former Everton man had a hand in both goals and caused problems for the Danish backline with his strength and directness.
Against Finland, it was more of the same from Belgium’s record goalscorer. However, for most of the game, he was frustrated by Hradecky and some dogged defending.
The 28-year-old was unlucky to have seen a strike ruled out for the tightest of offside decisions but was not to be denied a second time.
Lukaku’s goal took his tally to three in the competition, joint-top with Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrick Schick. This was no less than he deserved for a brilliant display.
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