Where is the love? Lethal Lukaku deserves more respect from Belgium

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The Manchester United striker underlined his importance to his nation's World Cup cause with a double in Monday's 3-0 victory over a spirited Panama

Romelu Lukaku claimed on the eve of Belgium's World Cup opener in Panama that some people in his homeland want to see him fail.

One cannot help but wonder why, because if the nation's 'Golden Generation' are to fulfil their potential in Russia this summer, the Manchester United striker will be the key to their chances. 

On a warm summer's evening in Sochi on Monday, Lukaku struck twice as Belgium kicked off their campaign with an ultimately facile 3-0 win over a group of game but limited tournament debutants.

It had by no means been a straightforward game, either for Belgium or Lukaku. The first half had been a worrying struggle for both. 

Just 1,000 Belgians had bothered to make the trip to Sochi, with the majority of their fans having decided to save their cash for the big group game against England, and their anticipated assault on the knockout stage.

Victory over a Panama side routed 6-0 by Switzerland in a friendly in March was considered a formality. It was anything but. 

With the aid of the underdog-loving locals, Panama's massive travelling contingent turned this Group G fixture into a home match. They had not just come to Sochi to take part; they had come to take over.

It made for a truly special atmosphere; even before a ball had been kicked. It was all too much for one Panama fan. She had been welling up during the Belgian anthem. The tears began to flow as soon as the Panamanian one began. She wasn't alone.

That stirring passion was replicated on the field. Led by the barrel-chested Roman Torres, Gomez's men played with great aggression, upsetting the Belgians, and Eden Hazard in particular, with the Chelsea ace coming in for some particularly rough treatment.

The Red Devils did create some openings in the first half but even when they did find a way through, Jaime Penedo dealt comfortably with everything fired at him in the Panama goal.

Besides, Belgian's lack of fluidity was best illustrated by their inability to bring Lukaku into the game. He had just four touches in the opening 25 minutes.

Not that he was blameless, of course. When he did get the ball, he invariably gave it away, with less successful passes (2) than any other outfield player.

Dries Mertens, Belgium

Luckily for him, though, the entire complexion of the game - and atmosphere within the stadium - changed just two minutes after the restart, with one deadly swing of Dries Mertens' right boot.

Panama responded well to the setback, with Edgar Barcenas' clever ball in behind Yannick Carrasco - a liability at wing-back in Roberto Martinez's questionable 3-4-3 formation that could well be exposed by better opposition - putting Michael Murillo through on goal.

Unfortunately for the Central Americans, and their hopes of pulling off a massive upset, the right-back fired straight at Thibaut Courtois.

Such profligacy was punished in predictably ruthless fashion, with Kevin De Bruyne teeing up Lukaku for his opening goal with a delicious outside-of-the-foot pass, before Hazard slipped the No.9 in for his second.

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It was a quick-fire salvo that underlined the individual quality at Martinez's disposal. Indeed, Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez had even claimed before the game that his Belgium counterpart has - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi aside - the best players at this summer's World Cup.

Doubts persists over Martinez but there is no denying the quality of this Red Devils squad, or Lukaku's importance, with the forward now having been directly involved in 12 of Belgium's last 18 goals (10 goals, two assists).

For that reason alone, he deserves more love and support, because, as he showed here in Sochi, he has the ability to fire his nation to a first major trophy.

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