Belgium were not at their fluent best when they opened their Euro 2020 campaign but nonetheless sent a warning to rivals with a comfortable 3-0 win over Russia in St Petersburg on Saturday.
The world number one Red Devils are aware time is running out for their golden generation to secure a maiden title and they made a solid start thanks to goals from Romelu Lukaku and substitute Thomas Meunier in the first half.
After the break Russia tried to press but could not find an opportunity to get back into the game and Lukaku added a third late on.
Belgium top Group B level on points with Finland, who shocked Denmark 1-0 in Copenhagen in a match overshadowed by Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsing on the pitch and being rushed to hospital.
The Inter Milan midfielder was later described as stable by European ruling body UEFA and the Danish federation said he was awake.
Belgium named Eriksen’s club team-mate Lukaku in their eleven before his condition was known but the big forward struck clinically with his first chance in the 10th minute.
Defender Andrei Semyonov misocontrolled a cross from Dries Mertens to leave Lukaku – who would have been offside had the Russian player not touched the ball – the chance to drill into the bottom corner.
Lukaku’s 61st international goal silenced the majority of the 34,000 crowd who had booed Belgium for taking a knee against racism before kick-off.
And the forward paid tribute to Eriksen by shouting “Chris, I love you,” into a camera as he celebrated.
“I enjoyed the game but for me, it was difficult to play because my mind was with my team-mate Christian Eriksen,” Lukaku said in broadcast interviews.
“I hope he is healthy and I dedicate this performance to him.
“My thoughts are with him, his girlfriend, his two kids and his family.”
Lukaku also provided the only moment of quality in a low-key second half two minutes from time when Meunier played him through for another slick finish.
Russia had shown energy and purpose before and after the opening goal as Belgium, with Kevin De Bruyne injured and Eden Hazard on the bench, struggled for fluency.
But another error, this time from home goalkeeper Anton Shunin in failing to gather a cross, gave Meunier a tap-in just minutes after he replaced Timothy Castagne who was injured in a clash of heads with Daler Kuzyaev which also cost the Russian his place.
The Sbornaya, who reached the quarter-finals of the home World Cup three years ago, were up against it and Mario Fernandes sending a header to equalize straight at Thibaut Courtois was looking a costly miss.
Russia had spells of pressure in the second half but Courtois was never seriously tested.
The Belgians, who were third at Russia 2018, next travel to Denmark on Thursday while Russia host Finland a day earlier.