GENK, Belgium: Belgium won for the first time in five matches on Monday with a Romelu Lukaku hat-trick securing a 5-1 friendly win over a Luxembourg side ranked 100 places below them.
Three weeks before their World Cup opener, Belgium showed off the neat passing that has prompted many to tip them to do well in Brazil and also blooded three debutants, including 19-year-old Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj.
However, the defensive lapse that allowed a Luxembourg equaliser will encourage World Cup rivals Algeria, Russia and South Korea that they can upset the Group H favourites.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but it was the first game in three weeks. I wasn’t so happy with organisation in the first half,” said coach Marc Wilmots.
“We had a reaction in the second half. We were perhaps a bit nonchalant. But we still have three weeks to go.”
A catalogue of keeper injuries and the absence of number one Thibaut Courtois, recovering from Saturday’s Champions League final, meant a first cap for Sammy Bossut, one of only three squad members still playing in Belgium.
Otherwise, Belgium, set to play in their first World Cup since 2002, began with a line-up that may well start their tournament opener against Algeria on June 17.
When Lukaku struck in the third minute it looked like being a very tough night for the visitors, but 10 minutes later they equalised when Aurelien Joachim, who plays for Dutch side RKC Waalwijk, span off Thomas Vermaelen and fired in.
It was perhaps the wake-up call a slightly sleepy Belgium required, allowing Lukaku to score his first international hat-trick. He had the doggedness of Marouane Fellaini to thank for his opener, a failed Luxembourg clearance for his second, while he dribbled through the defence for his third.
Belgium brought on five substitutes at half-time, giving a debut to Januzaj, who only declared his allegiance to Belgium a month ago. Lille’s Divock Origi, another uncapped teenager in the squad, replaced Lukaku on the hour mark.
Substitute Nacer Chadli scored Belgium’s fourth while Kevin De Bruyne converted a 91st minute penalty.
Belgium will fly to Stockholm on Tuesday for a training camp ending with a friendly against Sweden on Sunday in which Wilmots said he would try to simulate more of a World Cup feel with fewer substitutes.
After a few days at the Belgian coast, they play a warm-up match against Tunisia in Brussels before boarding their plane to Sao Paolo on June 10 and a match behind closed door against the United States two days later.
Meanwhile, Russia started their World Cup countdown with a 1-0 win over Slovakia. Fabio Capello picked a strong team for their win over Slovakia in St Petersburg with Zenit St Petersburg forward Alexander Kerzhakov heading the only goal eight minutes from time.
Alexander Kokorin thought he had put Russia in front after latching on to a glorious through ball by Sergei Ignashevich before lifting the ball over goalkeeper Jan Mucha but English referee Mark Clattenburg ruled it out for offside.
In another match, Japan eased to a comfortable 1-0 win over Cyprus yesterday.
Fullback Atsuto Uchida slotted the only goal as a dominant Japan grabbed a 1-0 victory over Cyprus in a largely uninspiring World Cup send off in front of 59,000 fans.
The Schalke O4 defender, on his return to the Japan side after a thigh injury curtailed his season in Germany, drove home at the second attempt two minutes before halftime after his initial effort was blocked.
Shinji Kagawa, Yoichiro Kakitani and Keisuke Honda went close to adding to the lead for the Japanese, who dominated possession and were rarely tested in defence.
“I think the team did okay. We had a physically hard training camp in Ibusuki so there was not so much sharpness, but our decision making was good,” Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni told reporters. Reuters