A sensational volley by Dries Mertens and a Romelu Lukaku double fired classy Belgium to a 3-0 win against World Cup debutants Panama in Sochi on Monday.
Panama held Belgium at bay until two minutes after the restart when Mertens broke the deadlock, with Lukaku’s brace completing a smooth win for Roberto Martinez’s team in their Group G opener.
Meanwhile, a VAR-awarded penalty gave Sweden a narrow but deserved victory in their opening Group F match against a poor South Korea side in Nizhny Novgorod also on Monday.
Veteran Swedish skipper Andreas Granqvist scored the only goal of the game from the spot after Viktor Claesson was upended by South Korean substitute Kim Min-woo Kim in the 62nd minute.
Despite furious appeals, El Salvadorean referee Joel Aguilar, who had ironically been whistle-happy up until that point, initially waved away Swedish penalty claims.
But after consulting the video, he pointed to the spot. It was the third VAR penalty awarded at these championships after France and Peru also benefitted from video referrals.
The win was reward for Sweden’s more attacking approach, but it was unsurprising the winner came from the penalty spot in a game between two sides who had only managed two goals between them in seven games heading into Russia.
Sweden never really convinced that they would score prior to the penalty despite their domination and a toothless South Korea did not manage one shot on target.
However, they should have equalised in the 90th minute but Hwang Hee-chan put a free header wide, spurning the Koreans’ best chance of the game by far.
The victory leaves Sweden joint top of the group after Mexico’s surprise victory against world champions Germany on Sunday.
Next up for the Swedes is an intriguing encounter against Germany in Sochi on June 23. South Korea started the game brightly, forcing the first corner in the fourth minute, but were gradually forced back by an attritional Swedish side. -AFP