A dominant display from start to finish saw Belgium take a 2-0 win over Finland in their final Group B match at UEFA Euro 2020.
The Red Devils had already secured progress to the next round, but they only needed one point to guarantee first place.
Although progress was guaranteed, Belgian coach Roberto Martinez still named a relatively complete squad, with captain Eden Hazard starting a game for the first time in more than a month.
The Belgians were expected to dominate the proceedings from the start, but were disappointed by unusual indecision in the final third. On the few occasions when they got it right, a Finnish goal-inspired Lukas Hradecky kept them at bay.
Finland seemed content to sit back and absorb the pressure. They also fought back resolutely to stay out of wave after wave of Belgium’s attacks.
Kevin de Bruyne was in inspiring shape and his vision helped open up the Finnish defense at will. Jeremy Doku was also encouraged by the band, but the first half ended goalless.
It was more of the same in the second half, with the only difference being that Finland showed a bit more ambition in the attacking third.
Romelu Lukaku had the ball in the back of the net midway through the second half. However, the goal was ruled out by a very marginal offside decision after consultations with the VAR.
Hradecky had been unbeatable for most of the match, but was unlucky to see the ball drift from his outstretched hand after a Thomas Vermaelen header bounced off the post in the 74th minute.
Lukaku secured the result for Belgium as he deftly controlled De Bruyne’s skillful pass on his way, then showed great strength to hold his score and land a right-footed shot on Hradecky with nine minutes remaining.
The victory guaranteed Belgium first place, while Finland will have to wait to know their qualifying fate.
Here are five talking points of the game.
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# 5 Awesome Belgium Sends Warning Statement
Belgium is in the age of a true golden generation and arguably has the most balanced team on the international scene.
Virtually every team position has at least two world leaders who have proven themselves on the highest stage, and they have for the past six years.
The 2014 World Cup was the tournament where they announced their arrival, and their quarter-final exit to Argentina was apparently a platform for more important things.
Euro 2016 followed a surprising quarter-final outing to Wales, but the 2018 FIFA World Cup was widely expected to be where Belgium would do well. Despite eliminating Brazil in the last eight, the Benelux nation fell to eventual champion France in the semi-finals to suffer even more heartbreak.
Time is running out for players like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne to reach their potential on the international stage, and Euro 2020 is arguably their last chance at glory.
Belgium entered the tournament as a joint favorite with France. The way Roberto Martínez’s team dismissed their group stage competition must have sent a declaration of intent to their rivals.
Read also: Paul Merson’s column – Euro 2020: 5 surprise contenders for the Player of the Tournament award
# 4 Romelu Lukaku gives the performance of a complete forward
Romelu Lukaku has taken his game to new heights under the guidance of Antonio Conte, especially with his bonding game and waiting ability with his back to goal.
This facet of his game has been on display throughout the European Championship, especially in the comeback against Denmark.
Despite not getting on the scoresheet, the former Everton player chipped in on both goals and caused problems for the Danish defense with his strength and outspokenness.
Against Finland, it was more of the same from Belgium’s record scorer. However, for most of the game, he was frustrated by Hradecky and some stubborn defenders.
The 28-year-old was unlucky enough to have a hit ruled out by the tightest offside decision, but could not be denied a second time.
Lukaku’s goal brought his tally to three in the competition, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrick Schick. This was nothing less than what he deserved for a brilliant display.
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