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De Bruyne shows his class as lethal Lukaku bounces back

Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku bore the brunt of the criticism levelled at Belgium following their 2-0 defeat to Italy in their Euro 2016 opener.

Manchester City playmaker De Bruyne looked jaded and struggled throughout in Lyon, while Lukaku missed a glorious chance to equalise before Graziano Pelle wrapped up the Azzurri’s with a late second.

Speaking after that game Belgium coach Marc Wilmots defended De Bruyne, commenting: “If I had an explanation for Kevin’s performance I’d give you one. Perhaps he is tired after a busy season.

“Kevin has given so much for the national team over the last four years that you shouldn’t just expect me to slate him. He’s always capable of scoring a free-kick, banging it in from range or providing an assist.”

Wilmots kept his faith with De Bruyne for Saturday’s crucial clash with Republic of Ireland – and the 24-year-old did not let his manager down, starring as the Red Devils overwhelmed the Boys in Green to run out 3-0 winners.

De Bruyne was Belgium’s driving force right from the start and was involved in nearly every dangerous move. It was no surprise that he was the architect of Belgium’s opening goal, setting up Lukaku after a lightning-quick break.

The City man was not the only Belgian to silence his critics, either. Wilmots hinted ahead of the game that he considered replacing Lukaku with one of Divock Origi, Michy Batshuayi or Christian Benteke.

However, the coach was rewarded for sticking with the Everton striker, as he put in a superb performance, scoring twice to prove that he is still Belgium’s best option up top.

Lukaku started and ended the attack that led to Belgium’s opening goal, picking up the ball in his own half, playing in De Bruyne before finishing clinically.

Axel Witsel then made it two, before Lukaku struck again to put the match to bed with 20 minutes left on the clock, coolly slotting home after being handed the ball by Eden Hazard.

Lukaku has now scored in five of his last six games for Belgium, becoming the first Belgian player to score twice in one game at a major tournament since Wilmots at the 1998 World Cup.

There he is no denying he still has room for improvement in certain aspects of his game, but he is clearly a major asset for this Belgium team as they chase European glory.

Sat 18 Jun, 2016
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