Iceland knocked out cold by battering ram Lukaku

Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku was brought down by a clumsy tackle.
Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku was brought down by a clumsy tackle.PHOTO: AFP

REYKJAVIK (Iceland) • Iceland's exertions in recent years appear to have caught up with them, as the Euro 2016 quarter-finalists lost 3-0 to Belgium in the Nations League on Tuesday, three days after conceding six unanswered goals in Switzerland.

Iceland have defied the odds to become the smallest nation to qualify for the European Championship and then the World Cup.

But endeavour can go only so far to make up for a small talent pool - at Russia 2018 in June, they held Argentina in their opener but failed to progress from a group that included Croatia and Nigeria.

The drop-off continued on Tuesday as Iceland lost their unbeaten home run of 13 competitive matches to World Cup semi-finalists Belgium.

Erik Hamren has now lost his opening two games as Iceland manager and his backline had no answer to Romelu Lukaku, who won a penalty which was converted by Eden Hazard in the 29th minute, and later scored a brace.

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez told reporters, after the Red Devils' first game in the inaugural Nations League, that the burly striker is at his most effective as a battering ram up front.

"I have known Lukaku for a long time and I understand him. I knew his role with Belgium when I was at Everton - I just want him to score," the former Toffees boss said.

He also praised his world No. 2 team for standing firm in the face of early pressure.

"Iceland started better so I could see we had it hard. But we showed resilience and got back on top, scored the goals and we were better," the 45-year-old Spaniard said.

"If you score the first goal, you have control. Iceland were better but we scored first."

Lukaku, also on the mark in last Friday's 4-0 friendly defeat of Scotland, was brought down by a clumsy tackle from Sverrir Ingason and Hazard rolled the resulting spot kick to the left of Hannes Halldorsson.

He then got himself on the scoresheet two minutes later by following up a rebound after Vincent Kompany's header was palmed into his path by Halldorsson.

Rampant Belgium put the icing on the cake with a third goal with nine minutes to play as Lukaku slotted home a fizzing cross from Dries Mertens.

Martinez's men are now level on three points with Switzerland, their opponents in their next Nations League game on Oct 12.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2018, with the headline 'Iceland knocked out cold by battering ram Lukaku'. Print Edition | Subscribe