Belgium started their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign with a win on Tuesday, as Romelu Lukaku led the Red Devils to a 3-0 triumph over Cyprus with a brace.
Lukaku gave the visitors an early lead with a close-range header, but the Belgians failed to capitalise on their momentum, and the score was still 1-0 at half-time.
The Everton man doubled his tally after 61 minutes with a towering header, and Yannick Carrasco added a third goal with 10 minutes left to play. Michy Batshuayi missed a penalty shortly before the final whistle.
As shared by the team's official Twitter account, manager Roberto Martinez introduced Thomas Vermaelen into the starting XI, opting to go for a fluid squad and experimenting with a 3-4-3 look:
Jordan Lukaku made way for the AS Roma man, after the left-back disappointed in the friendly loss against Spain. Radja Nainggolan's absence was a bit of a shock, given the midfielder's fine Serie A form.
Cyprus started the match on the front foot, showing no fear of the vaunted Belgium side. Teenager Grigoris Kastanos of Juventus, who made his full international debut, immediately threw himself into every duel.
The Belgians soon took control of the ball but were sloppy with their passing early. The hosts defended deep inside their own half, forcing the Red Devils to work the ball wide and use plenty of crosses.
Jan Vertonghen almost released Lukaku in behind the defence on a rare counter-attack, and Eden Hazard had a shot deflected after some strong work from Kevin De Bruyne. Georgios Efrem almost unlocked Belgium's defence with a surging run, but Vertonghen intervened just in time.
The Belgians took the lead after 13 minutes in bizarre fashion. A free-kick from De Bruyne landed back at his feet after an odd, high cross from Vertonghen, and the City man squared the ball for Thomas Meunier. The full-back saw his effort hit the crossbar, but the rebound fell to Lukaku, who headed home from close range.
Footy Accumulators couldn't help themselves:
Pieros Sotiriou almost hit back immediately for the hosts, moving well toward the near post and diverting a header over the goal of Thibaut Courtois. Cyprus tried to counter Belgium's three-man defence with balls over the top, with Kastanos finding some success.
On the other side of the pitch, De Bruyne fluffed a shot wide of Constantinos Panayi's goal, and Toby Alderweireld couldn't get a shot off after another dangerous free-kick.
Cyprus had an excellent spell around the half-hour mark, as Belgium's passing became even sloppier, and the Red Devils gave the ball away far too easily. The pace of the match dropped drastically, and Charalambos Kyriakou almost took advantage of a poor defensive move, firing a shot wide from long range.
Vertonghen tried his luck from distance with a curling shot that flew wide of the post, as Belgium increased the pace toward the end of the half. Hazard almost reached Lukaku after a one-two with De Bruyne, and Meunier didn't fare any better, just missing the Everton man.
Efrem put Courtois to work with Cyprus' best chance of the half just before the half-time whistle, testing the Chelsea star from inside the box, and Lukaku refused to pull the trigger after a great long ball from Vertonghen.
The Red Devils showed more intensity to start the second half, but once again, their passing was sloppy. Dossa Junior wanted a penalty after light contact in the box, and the counter-attack saw Jason Demetriou clear the ball before Hazard could tap home at the far post.
Hazard dribbled past multiple defenders before cutting the ball back to no one, and Vertonghen nearly picked out Lukaku, as Cyprus struggled to contain the Belgians whenever they found some space.
Marouane Fellaini was finally booked after a multitude of fouls, and the resulting free-kick from Junior only just flew wide. But just as Cyprus had reasons to hope, Belgium countered at pace, and while Carrasco's initial shot was saved, Lukaku again powered home the rebound with his head.
AccaTracker App assumed that would be the end of the match as a contest:
Kastanos was booked for a rash tackle on Hazard, as frustration started to set in for the hosts, and Carrasco tested Panayi with a shot from distance. Vertonghen fired over after a great run from Lukaku, and the striker didn't fare much better minutes later.
Batshuayi replaced the scorer with 16 minutes left to play, and Belgium remained dangerous on the counter, with Carrasco drawing a fine save from Panayi.
The Atletico Madrid man made it 3-0 inside the final 10 minutes, easily tapping home after an assist from Hazard, to the delight of the team's official Twitter account:
The Red Devils pushed for a fourth goal, and Cyprus captain Constantinos Charalambidis gave them the perfect opportunity by bringing Hazard down inside the box. Batshuayi couldn't put the ball past Panayi, however.
The Chelsea man was able to joke about his miss afterward:
Belgium will host Bosnia and Herzegovina in their next Group H qualifier on October 7, while Cyprus visit neighbours Greece.