Mertens magic sees Belgium past Panama

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The celebration after Panama qualified for the World Cup was wild and emotional, enough that Panama City essentially shut down in honor of reaching soccer's showcase event for the first time.

Mertens was a menacing presence for Belgium, even when their performance was more laboured early on against Panama. "But if I see how they are working on getting back, then I think all will be good", he added.

Improving on quarter-final exits at both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 has to be the aim, but Belgium's preparations have not been aided by defensive injury problems.

Ultimately it was a comfortable victory for Roberto Martinez's Belgian side - but what did we learn about England's upcoming opponents? And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland's upset against Argentina - the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday - the Colombian didn't bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

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Several players were sprayed by staff just before kick-off, but that did not appear to be enough either. And the officials were not the only irritant in Volgograd, where insects proved a nuisance throughout.


The other group G fixture of the night will keep you up well past your bedtime when England play Tunisia in Volgograd. But Tunisia caused England plenty of problems before giving up a late victor.

Since the start of the World Cup, the big teams have had difficulty playing against the weaker nations.

Belgium's players celebrate their second goal during the Russian Federation 2018 World Cup Group G football match between Belgium and Panama at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 18, 2018. But I don't think they have the quality we have.

Lukaku was working hard up front and was rewarded for his efforts when he headed home Kevin De Bruyne's brilliant pass off the outside off his foot to make it 2-0 in the 69th minute.

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Today's media focus remains firmly fixed on Russian Federation 2018 where, of course, England open their World Cup campaign later today with several of the favourites having made poor starts to the tournament.

"I'm excited. I see the players work, I see them in training, and they are just desperate to perform for the fans back in Belgium". Vermaelen was injured late in the club season with Barcelona.

"It is a result that can't be positive because we lost 3-0 but they could have won by a landslide", Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez told a news conference.

After a goalless first half, Belgium ranked third in the world, finally broke Panama's resistance when Dries Mertens steered in a spectacular volley.

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Gomez stated his players will line up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with 37-year-old striker Blas Perez, the country's joint leading goalscorer with 43, leading the line.

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