De Bryune imperious as Belgium dispatch Romania

June 22 – With a commanding performance and a goal, Kevin De Bruyne steered Belgium to a 2-0 victory against Romania, leaving all four Group E teams on three points. 

All it took for Belgium to quell a major crisis was 74 seconds Romelu Lukaku’s hold-up play and Youri Tielemans’s sweet finish gave them the lead as they quickly found some form.

It was the Belgians’ first goal at a finals since their defeat of Canada at the World Cup in Qatar.

That tournament was a low point for the Red Devils and it had seemed that this European championship could go the same way following a shock 1-0 defeat to Slovakia.

In Cologne, they needed to find answers and get a result against the Romanians. Tielemans’s early strike was instructive: he had not featured against Slovakia but was among the four new names Domenico Tedesco introduced for this match; Lukaku responded in part to his critics by providing the assist.

Kevin De Bruyne was at the centre of Belgium’s dominance

Belgium were up and running. The team has problems that England are familiar with – it is top-heavy but light on left-backs. After their second-minute strike, the Belgians however controlled the match and caused havoc in the Romanian box: Lukaku, with all his sheer force, pivoted in the box to see his shot deflect wide and Lukebakio prompted a wonderful save from Florin Nita after Kevin De Bruyne had burst forward.

Romania struggled to deal with the speed of wingers Dodi Lukebakio, who replaced Leandro Trossard in the starting XI, and Jeremy Doku.

As a team, Belgium were much more confident and De Bruyne found more space, and thus more joy. He constantly wanted the ball and outclassed those in yellow. Every Belgian attack carried a sense of danger. Tedesco, it seemed, had got his line-up right. The Romanians had been restricted to a single opportunity – Radu Dragusin testing Koen Casteels with a header.

Yet, at half-time, Belgium enjoyed just a slender one-goal advantage. Their flying start had not resulted in more goals.

Romania, with a bright restart, sent a couple of warning shots to the Belgians. Dennis Man rifled an attempt at Casteels and Valentin Mihaila whacked a ball high and wide after besting Amadou Onana.

 Jeremy Doku caused havoc in the Romanian defence

They played with more zeal and more defensive application, but De Bruyne, his crimson shirt completely saturated, proved unstoppable, first curling a ball just wide and then driving a low shot at Nita.

He was at the heart of every Belgium move. The game flowed through De Bruyne, who showed class and hunger in equal measure. It was confirmation of a public secret: with De Bruyne at his best, Belgium are a different team altogether.

He then set up Lukaku in the 64th minute with the perfect through ball, met by the perfect finish, but for a third time in the tournament, the striker’s celebrations proved to be premature. The goal was outlawed for offside. Romania went down the other end with Man, whose heavy touch allowed Casteels to come out and block the shot. Belgium scrambled the ball away.

It was frantic football, often chaotic even. Neither side was relenting. It was perhaps fitting that amid all this bedlam, De Bruyne, with his commandeering presence, vision and industry, decided the match with an ultimately straightforward goal in the 80th minute, stabbing the ball past Nita.

De Bruyne had his reward for an outstanding match and in the stands, the Belgian supporters serenaded their marquee midfielder.

Belgium deserved the victory on a night of great improvement and encouragement. Yet, they can’t relax. With the quartet of teams on three points, Group E will go down the wire. They know that another slip-up could still be fatal.

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