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Romelu Lukaku inspired Belgium to a dominating, ominous opening victory in the Euros, with two goals dedicated to his friend and club team-mate Christian Eriksen.
The towering striker overpowered poor Russia, who were a shadow of the side which proved so exhilarating on home turf in the World Cup three years ago.
And his performance set the tone for a Belgian display which showed they are hot favourites to lift this trophy, on a night when the former Manchester United man made a huge statement, with an early goal to steady nerves, and a late one that rounded off a fine victory.
It was an emotional moment 10 minutes into the contest, as Lukaku proved once more he is a goal-scoring machine, with an instinctive finish after a mistake in the Russian defence.
Romelu Lukaku dedicated his opening goal to teammate and friend Christian Eriksen
(Image: Pool via REUTERS)
He checked for any flags, and then raced to the nearest TV camera, to shout passionately: “Chris, Chris I love you”, in a touching message to his stricken friend and Inter Milan team-mate Christian Eriksen.
The Belgian striker was clearly on a mission to score a goal he could dedicate to the Denmark midfielder, and it quickly became a night when he again proved his sublime quality in front of goal.
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That opener – which so effectively knocked the stuffing out of the Russians and silenced their supporters who had booed when the Belgian players took a knee before the start – was his 61st for his nation in just 93 games.
He is Belgium’s all time top scorer, and their most prolific at major tournaments too. He has blossomed under the intelligent and supportive coaching of Roberto Martinez, who knows precisely how to get the best from his centre forward.
Incredibly, he has scored 38 goals in his last 33 matches under Martinez, and 21 in 19 games since the end of the last World Cup.
Lukaku netted his second and Belgium's third in the closing stages
Russia didn’t know how to handle him. He bossed possession with his ability to hold the ball, and created a fine chance for Leander Dendoncker, who blazed over from close range.
His presence played a role in Belgium’s second goal, as Russian keeper Anton Shunin seemed too aware of him as a cross came in from the left, parrying the ball lamely to sub Meunier, who tapped in from close range.
Belgium could have had more, and their biggest drama before the break was a clash of heads which saw Timothy Castagne taken off with concussion, along with Russia’s Daler Kuzyaev.
Russia did rally after the interval in front of 30,000 of their home fans in the Saint Petersburg Stadium, but rarely threatened a comfortable Belgian defence.
Martinez was even offered the luxury of bringing Eden Hazard on as substitute for the final 20 minutes, to drop alongside his brother Thorgen in the midfield, as the Belgians relaxed and played for time.
It was a massively impressive performance from the World number one team, who posted noticed with this dominant display against the Russians in front of their home fans, that they mean business at the Euros.