A fantastic performance from midfielder Kevin de Bruyne and clinical finishing from Romelu Lukaku helped Belgium to a comfortable 3-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland in Group E of Euro 2016.
Ireland now sit bottom with only a solitary point from their opening two games, while the Red Devils moved into second spot with the victory.
In truth, Martin O’Neill’s men were second best for most of the contest with Manchester City midfielder De Bruyne in inspired form for Belgium and The Boys in Green will now have to beat Italy next week to qualify for the knockout rounds.
Despite Belgium needing the win more, the lack of attacking intent from Ireland was disappointing given the slow pace of the Red Devils’ play for much of the fixture.
It took until the 47th minute for out-of-form striker Lukaku to curl home Belgium’s opener – their first goal at a Euros since Emile Mpenza scored against Sweden at Euro 2000.
And, with a limited response from the Irish, Axel Witsel headed home Belgium’s second on 61 minutes, before Romelu Lukaku bagged his third on 70 to make sure of the points.
Ireland made one change to their starting line-up, Stephen Ward replacing the injured Jonathan Walters with Robbie Brady moving into midfield.
While Belgium boss Marc Wilmots opted to replace Laurent Ciman, Radja Nainggolan and Marouane Fellaini with Thomas Meunier, Mousa Dembele and Yannick Carrasco.
Still reeling from their 2-0 defeat against Italy, Belgium started brightly, with Carrasco – who scored in the Champions League final for Atletico Madrid – sending in a cross come shot from the right that Darren Randolph dealt with easily.
Ireland were struggling to settle into the game in the early exchanges and Belgium almost took advantage as De Bruyne’s corner saw Toby Alderweireld glance a header wide of Randolph’s right-hand post.
After a couple of harmless corners from the Irish, the Belgians were on the attack again. This time John O’Shea could only clear De Bruyne’s wonderful cross to the feet of Eden Hazard but the Chelsea man smashed his shot over the crossbar.
Belgium did have the ball in the net in the 25th minute, only for the linesman to correctly rule out Carrasco’s headed finish.
De Bruyne was running the show for Belgium in the first half and on 30 minutes he picked out Meunier in a great position in the area, only for the Club Brugge man to club his outside-of-the-foot shot wide.
Several other opportunities fell the way of the Belgians before half-time, including Witsel’s long-range blocked effort and Alderweireld with a header cleared off the line.
It didn’t take long after the restart for Belgium to break the deadlock, though. De Bruyne, who Ireland failed to contain all game, skipped past Ward before feeding in Lukaku on the edge of the box and the Everton striker made no mistake, curling the ball into the bottom corner.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) June 18, 2016
Following the goal, the Irish attempted to get a foothold in the game with some decent attacking play but they failed to carve out any proper chances.
O’Neill’s men were leaving themselves open at the back and in the 61st minute Witsel scored a crucial second for Belgium.
The midfielder ghosted in at the back post to convert full-back Meunier’s delicious cross.
The Republic of Ireland never looked like getting back into it after that and Lukaku bagged his second in the 70th minute to secure the three points.
Lukaku, who has been linked with a move away from Goodison Park this summer, showcased another clinical finish after Hazard slipped past Ciaran Clark to feed the striker inside the area.