Romelu Lukaku recorded a brace for the second straight contest and Eden Hazard added two goals of his own as Belgium turned on the class Saturday and tore apart Tunisia 5-2 in Group G play in Moscow to all but assure itself a spot in the knockout round of the World Cup.
Michy Batshuayi completed the scoring for Roberto Martinez’s team, which has racked up eight goals in its two wins and sent a message ahead of their final group play match against England. The Red Devils have the maximum six points and will advance to the round of 16 if the Three Lions defeat Panama as expected Sunday.
Lukaku joined Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo with four goals as joint leaders in the race for the Golden Boot. The Manchester United striker has been irresistible since arriving in Russia and became the first player to score at least two goals in back-to-back World Cup games since Argentina’s Diego Maradona in 1986.
Already the all-time leading scorer in Belgium history, Lukaku now has 40 goals in 71 international appearances.
Tunisia was all but mathematically eliminated with the loss, though it did break through against Belgium’s defense for goals on either side of halftime through defender Dylan Bronn and forward Wahbi Khazri. The Eagles of Carthage have gone winless in 13 straight World Cup matches (0-4-9) since defeating Mexico in their first contest in 1978.
Belgium struck quickly in the sixth minute, with Hazard getting drilled on a clumsy challenge from Syam Ben Youssef as he carried the ball into the penalty area on the right. The Chelsea star coolly slotted into the left corner without challenge from keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha.
Ten minutes later, it was Lukaku’s turn. He veered inside then outside as Dries Mertens carried the ball before laying it off to his left. Lukaku carried the ball into the penalty and struck clinically with his left foot, going through Ben Youssef’s legs and beating Mustapha inside the right post from 15 yards.
Bronn, though, gave Tunisia a lifeline with a response on 18 minutes. Khazri whipped in a free kick from the left, and Bronn hit a perfect header from six yards, beating Thibaut Courtois inside the right post to make it 2-1.
Bronn, though, would be forced off six minutes later after twisting his knee. The match continued at a blistering pace, with Mustapha forced into action to snuff out another scoring chance for Lukaku before Ferjani Sassi fired a 20-yard shot wide of the left post.
Tunisia’s misery worsened in the 41st minute when Ben Youssef had to be removed due to a knock. The Red Devils were able to exploit the weakened back four right before halftime as Kevin De Bruyne started the play that led to Lukaku’s second.
He slid the ball from the right sideline laterally to Thomas Meunier, who slipped a through ball for Lukaku, who timed his diagonal run perfectly and clipped the ball over Mustpaha with his right foot to restore Belgium’s two-goal advantage and sap the spirits of the Eagles of Carthage.
Six minutes after the restart, Toby Alderweireld picked out Hazard with a tracer of a pass over the middle, splitting Tunisia’s defense. Hazard raced into the penalty area, caressed it around Mustapha and calmly finished to make it 4-1.
The match well in hand and wanting to avoid his stars picking up further knocks, Martinez pulled Lukaku on the hour and Hazard eight minutes later as Marouane Fellani and Batshuayi, respectively.
While Belgium was ruthless, Tunisia was toothless. The Red Devils gave them plenty of space to pour forward, but the finishing was not up to snuff for the Eagles as Khazri let a nice cross from Fakhreddine Ben Youssef go begging and Anice Badri failed to test Courtois from distance.
Batshuayi nearly had a goal in the 76th minute after a through ball from Yannick Carrasco, but after rounding Ben Mustapha, his finish lacked pace and was cleared off the line. The Dortmund striker then hit the crossbar from point-blank range after Ben Mustapha spilled Carrasco’s shot in front of him.
But the third time proved to be a charm as Youri Tielemans picked him out from the right with an inch-perfect cross Batshuayi volleyed across goal inside the right post on 90 minutes.
Tunisia made the scoreline more respectable in stoppage time as Khazri planted and spun a right-footed shot inside the left post from six yards on a cross from Hamdi Naguez.
If there is a concern for Belgium, which put a whopping 12 of its 23 shots on target, it has been the play of central defender Dedryck Boyata. The Celtic defender has been exploited in both matches as he deputizes for injured talisman Vincent Kompany in the three-man backline for the Red Devils.
Kompany, sidelined with a groin injury, could see his first action of this World Cup against England, though Martinez has hinted he may rest both Lukaku and Hazard, citing a right ankle injury for the former.