December 1, 2023

Belgium played Tunisia in the Group match in the Spartak Stadium in mild conditions with rains expected as the match wore on. The Red Devils were playing in yellow in their standard 3-4-3 formation. Tunisia, playing in red, were lining up with 4 at the back and three attackers up front with star man and captain Wahbi Khazri playing on the right. This was a classic World Cup encounter with one team having some of the biggest players of the game, household names pitted against the minnows, whose emotion was running high. This was evident as their coach couldn’t hold his tears back during the national anthem.

The game began with both the teams starting on the front foot, with Belgium pushing high and keeping possession. As early as the second minute, the Belgians registered their first shot on target with Lukaku’s power drive from range testing the agile Ben Mustapha who responded by coming off his line and parrying it away expertly. Just a minute later, Ben Youssef made an error and stepped on Hazard within the box, and a penalty was awarded to Belgium. VAR confirmed the decision and Hazard slotted it past the keeper.

Midfielder Sassi became the first to go into the referee’s book after an angry outburst as They continued to pepper the keeper after the first goal and got their reward when Mertens won the ball high up in midfield and played in Lukaku who romped a shot into the opposite corner. His movement was excellent, taking two steps to one side, then nimbly changing direction to move into space. It was almost Henry-like, guess the training’s paying off. Just when it was looking like this could be a cricket score, Tunisia stunned everyone, pulling one back. Khazri’s sumptuous ball was met by Bronn to the Tunisian crowd’s delight.

The Tunisian team tried to play the ball more to Khazri who was terrorizing the Belgian backline with marauding runs, continuously finding space behind their right-sided Wing-Back, Yannick Carrasco. That though was without too much end product. Tunisian goalscorer Bronn was struck on his metatarsal at an awkward angle and had to go off, much to the dismay of the team. Meanwhile, the 3-4-3 employed by Belgium was looking more like a 3-2-5, all-out attack mode. The rest of the half was almost exclusively played in the Tunisian half. Lukaku missed a couple of chances which could have easily put the game to bed well within the first half, but his first touch, not for the first time in his illustrious career, let him down.

Romelu Lukaku clips his second goal past Farouk Ben Mustapha of Tunisia to join Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the goalscoring charts. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

For the North Africans, it was Sassi who was controlling the midfield, even testing Courtois once. Tunisia had more bad luck with injuries as Ben Youssef was also stretchered off in the 40th minute. Ben Alouane was his replacement, like for like. In added time of the first half came the match-deciding moment. Meunier, dribbling inside off the left flank, played a cute pass in between the defensive line. Lukaku, avoiding the offside trap, deftly chipped over the keeper for his second of the day. When the teams went in at halftime, the gulf in class was palpable. The team with the greater support were huffing and puffing, while Belgium were barely out of second gear.

After the break, Tunisia started the brighter of the two sides, creating a chance or two, but were shepherded by the immaculate Spurs duo of Vertonghen and Alderweireld, who were playing their 251st match together. After one such failed attack, Alderweireld launched a ball deep from defence into the Tunisian half, when the magic happened. It was as if time slowed down. Eden Hazard chested the oncoming football, took it around the advancing keeper and another defender, to bundle it in. It was a goal oozing in class. All it did was make sure of the eventual result, but this was a goal that few can pull off.

Post that goal, it was all but over, the half an hour left to play a necessity for both teams. Tunisia lost all their shape and it could have been double digits. The changes came in wholesale for Belgium as they brought in Fellaini and Batshuayi for Hazard and Lukaku. The Batman looked destined not to score as he skied a sitter and hit another one into the keeper. He did eventually score though, in the dying moments, from a delicious pass by substitute Tielemans. The Tunisians’ misery was extended by 3 more minutes by referee Marrufo. Again, when it was least expected, Tunisia scored, Khazri getting just reward for his outstanding first half. For once, in this World Cup, sanity prevailed.

Match Facts

Romelu Lukaku became the first player to score two goals in a World Cup in two consecutive games after Diego Maradona.

This game became the highest scoring game of the world cup yet, bypassing the Spain Portugal game

Lukaku went past Marc Wilmots as Belgium’s top scorer in world cups.

Images via Guardian

Match Report by S. Parasuraman

More on the World Cup here.


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