Belgium struggle to 3-2 win over Norway in final warm-up

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 05, 2016 2:43 PM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium labored to a 3-2 victory over Norway on Sunday in a final warm-up match before Euro 2016 that showed off their attacking flair and defensive frailty in near equal measure.

Belgium, second in FIFA's world rankings, looked on course for a clear morale-boosting victory when Romelu Lukaku struck inside three minutes for his fourth goal in four matches.

However defensive frailties allowed Norway to equalize after 21 minutes and take a 2-1 lead early in the second half, leaving Belgian coach Marc Wilmots still pondering his starting lineup for the opening match at the finals against Italy on June 13.

The first lapse came midway through a first period that Belgian dominated when midfielder Radja Nainggolan was hustled off the ball by Stefan Johansen and Joshua King beat goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to score off the inside of the post.

In a frenetic three minutes after the break, Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne fired at keeper Orjan Nyland from close range before Norway's Veton Berisha, who plays in Germany's second division, cut in from the right, drifted across the defense and scored.

The Norwegians seemed to tire in the final quarter, leaving gaps in their defense and allowing Belgium winger Eden Hazard to head home Kevin De Bruyne's cross in the 70th and substitute Laurent Ciman to do the same three minutes later from a corner.

Until then Norway, who lost to Hungary in the playoffs for Euro 2016, beat Iceland 3-2 and went down 3-0 to Portugal in the past week, offered the sort of tight defense Belgium can expect in Group E, which also features Sweden and Ireland.

Belgium are facing a crisis in defense, with captain Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Lombaerts, Dedryck Boyata and Bjorn Engels all ruled out of the tournament in France with injuries.

Coach Marc Wilmots responded to a tepid 1-1 draw with Finland on Wednesday by pulling Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld from the full back positions to central defense, where they had a fine season for their club Tottenham Hotspur.

However, Belgium still look exposed.

Wilmots has also set a Wednesday deadline for defenders, Thomas Vermaelen and Thomas Meunier, and forward Yannick Carrasco, to prove they are free from injury.

(Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop and Francesco Guarascio; editing by Ken Ferris)