/ 23 June 2018

Belgium, Mexico march on as Germany face Swedish test

Mexico's Javier Hernandez celebrates scoring their second goal against South Korea.
Mexico's Javier Hernandez celebrates scoring their second goal against South Korea.

Belgium and Mexico powered towards the last 16 of the World Cup on Saturday with convincing victories as defending champions Germany prepared for a crunch clash with Sweden aiming to avoid a humiliating first-round exit.

Tournament dark horses Belgium produced an imperious display to overwhelm Tunisia, with Premier League stars Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard scoring two apiece in a 5-2 rout at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium.

The one-sided victory cemented Belgium’s place at the top of Group G and all but guaranteed their place in the knockout rounds, with just one group game, against England, remaining.

Manchester United striker Lukaku took his goals tally to the tournament to four as the Red Devils carved open Tunisia’s defence with an impressive attacking display.

Chelsea playmaker Hazard fired Belgium into an early lead from the penalty spot before Lukaku found the net in the 16th minute, adding another on the stroke of half-time.

Hazard added another in the 51st minute before substitute Michy Batshuayi added the fifth in the 90th minute.

Dylan Bronn and captain Wahbi Khazri grabbed consolation goals for Tunisia, who now face almost certain elimination.

“We are a good team, we want to reach the final and we are stronger than four years ago,” said Belgium captain Hazard, the man-of-the-match.

“The match was easy because we scored after five minutes and knew Tunisia would leave spaces as they needed to win, making it easier for us.”

Belgium and England will qualify for the last 16 on Sunday if England defeat Panama in Nizhny Novgorod.

Mexico meanwhile showed that their shock defeat of Germany last weekend was no fluke with a 2-1 defeat of South Korea in Rostov-on-Don in Saturday’s second game.

Hernandez half-century 

West Ham striker Javier Hernandez grabbed his 50th international goal while Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela was also on target from the penalty spot.

South Korea scored a late consolation strike from Tottenham’s Son Heung-min, but it was too little too late for the Asian giants, who desperately needed a victory after defeat by Sweden in their opening game.

The win leaves Mexico in pole position to win Group F with six points from two games. A point against Sweden in their final game will guarantee them a place in the last 16.

Mexico could even advance before then if Germany fail to beat Sweden later Saturday in Sochi.

Pressure is building on the 2014 champions following their defeat against Mexico in the opening game.

Coach Joachim Loew made four changes to his starting line-up for the Sweden game, most notably dropping Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil.

Mats Hummels is absent due to injury, while Sami Khedira and Marvin Plattenhardt are also dropped along with Ozil.

Germany team director Oliver Bierhoff said the Sweden game was treated like “our first ‘final’.”

“It’s annoying that it comes so early, but it’s self-inflicted,” Bierhoff said.

Meanwhile, the fallout from Friday’s politically charged clash between Switzerland and Serbia rumbled on Saturday.

Switzerland snatched a dramatic 2-1 win over Serbia on Friday courtesy of goals from Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri.

Both Xhaka and Shaqiri, who have roots in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that has declared independence in a move not recognised by Belgrade, celebrated their goals by making a gesture representing the Albanian flag.

Serbian press slammed the celebrations as “shameful provocation.”

Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic meanwhile demanded German match referee Felix Brych be tried as a war criminal in The Hague after failing to award his team a penalty.

“We were robbed,” Mladen Krstajic told Serbian reporters on Saturday, when asked about Brych’s decision.

“I wouldn’t give him either a yellow or red card, I would send him to the Hague. Then they could put him on trial, like they did to us.”

The now-defunct Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a UN body that prosecutes the perpetrators of war crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.