Football: 'Stay strong, says Lukaku to Eriksen as Belgium get winning start to Euro

Belgium were hardly troubled by Russia in their fine victory, despite star Kevin de Bruyne not playing.
Belgium were hardly troubled by Russia in their fine victory, despite star Kevin de Bruyne not playing.PHOTO: REUTERS

ST PETERSBURG (AFP, REUTERS) - Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku sent a message of support to his stricken Inter Milan teammate Christian Eriksen after scoring, as his double helped the Red Devils open their Euro 2020 campaign with a 3-0 win over Russia on Saturday (June 12).

Lukaku gave Belgium an early lead in Saint Petersburg, then shouted “Chris, Chris, stay strong – I love you” into a pitch-side camera during the celebration for his opening goal.

Eriksen is recovering in hospital in Copenhagen after collapsing on the pitch during extraordinary scenes which overshadowed Denmark’s 1-0 home defeat by Finland in Saturday’s earlier Group B game.

“I am really happy with the win, but it was hard for me to play because my thoughts were with Christian Erkisen,” said Lukaku, who revealed he cried tears of concern before kick-off for his Inter teammate.

Despite being without key performer Kevin de Bruyne, world No. 1 Belgium were rarely in trouble against their opponents.

They are top of Group B with three points, ahead of Finland on goal difference after the latter beat Denmark in the group’s other game in Copenhagen.

The Red Devils are unbeaten in 10 games in all competitions and have suffered just one defeat in their last 24 outings. They have also scored in each of their last 31 games.

The visitors grabbed the lead in the 10th minute when Andrei Semyonov failed to deal with a ball into the box from Leander Dendoncker. Lukaku turned and fired into the bottom corner.

Belgium were calm in possession and found plenty of time and space against Russia who struggled to get a firm grip on the game.

The Russians reached the quarter-finals in the World Cup they hosted in 2018 but the energy of those performances was missing, despite playing at home in front of more than 26,000 fans.

Stanislav Cherchesov struggled to find either the tempo to their attacks or a way to provide quality service to striker Artem Dzyuba who was too often left isolated.

It was no surprise when the second goal came, in the 34th minute, when Russia keeper Anton Shunin could parry Thorgan Hazard’s shot only towards Thomas Meunier, who made no mistake.

Russia applied some pressure after the interval but the Belgians coped without too much panic. Lukaku wrapped up the win with a well-taken effort after racing on to a through ball from Meunier.

Lukaku said the Eriksen situation had left him in tears before the game.

“I cried a lot because I was scared, obviously. You live strong moments together. I spent more time with him than with my family,” he said.

“My thoughts are with him, his girlfriend, his two kids and his family,” he added.

“I enjoyed the game but for me, it was difficult to play because my mind was with Christian. I hope he is healthy and I dedicate this performance to him,” added the former Manchester United striker.

Lukaku and the Belgian team had taken the knee before the kick-off but the anti-racist gesture was met with jeers and whistles from the crowd.