Two goals each for Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard and one for Michy Batshuayi swept Belgium to a 5-2 victory over Tunisia on Saturday that put them in command of World Cup Group G and underlined their status as one of the tournament favourites.
After racking up two wins and a goal difference of plus-six Belgium are virtually assured of advancing but it is not yet guaranteed – and they will be aware that they will need to tighten up at the back to handle the threat of the big guns deeper into the tournament.
Should Belgium lose their final game against England, currently on three, and if pointless Panama somehow beat England and Tunisia, all three would have six points and the top two would be decided on goal difference, though it would need a footballing freak show to stop Roberto Martinez’s side.
Tunisia, also without a point after two matches having extended their 40-year World Cup winless run to 13 games, are also still in with a theoretical chance of making it on through three points.
“It’s not easy to score that amount of goals in two games,” said Belgium coach Martinez following their 3-0 opening win over Panama.
“Today was a different game to Panama, they were very deep and structured, we had to find solutions. You have to give a lot of credit to Tunisia for wanting to press high up and make it a really open game. It is really good for us to be able to adapt to different types of games.
“We had to suffer in spells but when we were in full flow going forward, we look really sharp. On top, you have the talent and the quality but since we came together it’s been a joy to see a group of players working so hard.”
Belgium were much the better team from the off, looking dangerous on almost every attack, but they were seriously aided and abetted by some ragged defending and non-existing marking from their opponents.
Syam Ben Youssef needlessly crashed into Hazard to give away a sixth-minute penalty, which the captain calmly converted.
Ali Maaloul then gave the ball after 16 minutes to allow Dries Mertens to drive forward before rolling it into the path of Lukaku to plant it low into the corner.
Tunisia hit back two minutes later with a Dylan Bronn header as Belgium’s own sometimes shaky defending was exposed but another misplaced Tunisian pass enabled Thomas Meunier to feed his goal-hungry striker as Lukaku clipped in to make it 3-1 in stoppage time.
Following his double against Panama, it took him to four goals for the tournament, level with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and made him Belgium’s highest scorer at a single World Cup – after one-and-a-half games.
An inch-perfect Kevin de Bruyne pass sent Hazard clear for his second six minutes after the restart, the midfielder showing superb balance and skill to round keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha.
Substitute Batshuayi then had a remarkable last 20 minutes, having a shot cleared off the line, hitting the bar inexplicably from point-blank range and having another effort brilliantly saved before finally finding the target in the 90th with a good finish.
Belgium were generally on cruise-control for the final half hour, with Hazard and Lukaku taken off for a rest, though the North Africans had the last word as Wahbi Khazri scored in stoppage time.
“The Belgian team is a superior side,” Tunisian coach Nabil Maaloul said. “We would like to apologise to the Tunisian fans. We did our best and we will try to improve our performance in the future.”