Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Thorgan Hazard screamer settles heavyweight clash as defending champions knocked out

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·3-min read
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 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Roberto Martinez has said his side deserve a major title before they pass their expiry date as an international side.

Tonight may prove a defining step towards that.

This gifted group, their golden generation, will feel they came of age in dispatching the holders, not merely with style but substance too.

For so long they’ve been less than the sum of their parts while Portugal thrived thanks, largely, to the individual brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo. This time, the collective won out.

This was supposed to be - beyond these shores at least - the game of the last-16, a delightful ding-dong between two star-studded teams. But Belgium were not in Seville to play the occasion.

The two sides spent more than half-an-hour feeling one another out, wary of opening up and crashing out in the blink of an eye such was the quality facing them.

Ronaldo tested Thibaut Courtois with a trademark knuckleball free-kick, though it was straight at the Belgian goalkeeper.

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

It took until almost half-time for the Belgian’s to nudge the holders out of their comfort zone, Lukaku charging through the middle before being pulled back by Joao Palhinha, but winning no free-kick to the striker’s bemusement.

Lukaku’s driving run sparked a little life into the contest, but still it was waiting to be taken hold of. With everyone looking to Ronaldo, Lukaku or Eden Hazard to make their mark, it was the latter’s younger brother who stepped up.

Lukaku forged a path down the left, turned inside to Kevin De Bruyne who battled and helped the ball fall to Thomas Meunier, who fed Thorgan Hazard. After shifting the the ball out of his feet, Hazard struck across it and completely outfoxed Rui Patricio with a powerful, swerving strike into the far corner.

Portugal had controlled the game to that point but found themselves rocked and in need of a response. Belgium were now the ones able to sit and dictate, though shortly after the break Roberto Martinez lost his conductor with De Bruyne forced off.

Fernando Santos, the Portugal manager, sent on Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix to wrestle back the initiative.

There well spells, but few chances in a frustrating encounter for Santos’s defending champions.

Tempers began to flare, Pepe - always such a shy presence - squared up to Lukaku before getting a feel of Thorgan Hazard’s throat to earn a booking.

Belgium were largely retaining their composure, mentally at least, as Portugal piled on the pressure and looked to spark panic. Courtois punched clear a powerful Ruben Dias header before Raphael Guerreiro struck a post.

Lukaku remained an outball at the other end as the game became increasingly stretched as Eden Hazard was forced off with a hamstring problem.

This was far from the classic it was billed to be. There was little pure, attractive football. It became a chaotic, scrappy affair, primed for a Ronaldo intervention to turn the tide - though none arrived as he bowed out of what will surely be his final European Championship.

Belgium will not care a jot how the result was achieved. They’ve played some of the best international football of the past half-decade but still have nothing to show for it. As far as fulfilling potential goes, results are all that matter.

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