Lukaku scores twice as Belgium batter Ireland

Sat Jun 18, 2016 2:53pm EDT
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By Ed Dove

BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) - Belgium rediscovered their most blistering form to batter group E rivals Ireland 3-0 thanks to a brace from Romelu Lukaku and an Axel Witsel header on Saturday.

The victory of the world's second-ranked team was in stark contrast to their limp defeat in their opening Euro 2016 match against Italy.

Despite dominating the opening half, it still took until the opening minutes of the second period for Belgium to take the lead when Lukaku finished a counter-attack by rifling a shot into the far corner.

Ireland had a brief positive spell but Witsel made it two for Belgium with a pinpoint header after 61 minutes, and Lukaku completed the rout with a simple finish after another counter-attack nine minutes later.

With Italy having beaten both the Belgians and Sweden to win the group, the victory puts Belgium in second place on three points with the Irish and Sweden stuck on a point apiece.

"We were under pressure before today," Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne, the game's outstanding player, said. "And we came out with the right response."

Coach Marc Wilmots made three changes to the Belgium line-up that struggled against Italy, and they immediately appeared more vibrant and cohesive.

Their speed and fluidity improved, with the introduction of Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco giving them a menace out wide which had been missing in their opener.   Continued...

Football Soccer - Belgium v Republic of Ireland - EURO 2016 - Group E - Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France - 18/6/16
Belgium's Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring their third goal 
REUTERS/Sergio Perez