Portugal beats Belgium in friendly showing “football is not afraid”

Portugal beat Belgium by 2-1 on Tuesday night (March 29) at Leiria’s municipal stadium, securing a big win against a country still in mourning over last week’s Brussels attacks.
But by the final whistle, what really mattered was that football had proved “it is not afraid”.

The stadium was nearly full as several VIPs watched from the stands, including Portugal’s leaders, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Prime Minister António Costa.
Players also put on a great display of solidarity, standing side by side as both national anthems were played.

Belgian coach Marc Wilmost said before the match: “The events of March 22 are naturally in the minds of the players, but when the referee blows, the match will start and we’ll go for it.”

The game got off to a lukewarm start, however. It was only at the 10th-minute mark that Portugal started to seriously threaten Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
It seemed like it was a matter of time before the home side would score, and the breakthrough goal finally arrived when Valencia midfielder André Gomes made a deadly pass for former Manchester United star Nani to break the deadlock 20 minutes into the game.

Soon after, the one and only Cristiano Ronaldo headed a perfect cross from João Mário to bring the score up to 2-0.

Belgium – missing several top players such as Chelsea star Eden Hazard – were unable to respond until Romelu Lukaku also headed a cross from his brother Jordan in the second half.

The match’s intensity started to slow in the last 20 minutes, with Portugal able to hold onto a motivating victory against a team that is currently placed 1st in FIFA’s national team ranking.

The game had originally been meant to play in Brussels, but was moved to Leiria for safety reasons.

Both countries will now play three more friendlies before Euro 2016.

Portugal will meet Norway, England and Estonia, while Belgium will face Switzerland, Norway and Finland.

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Photo (Manuel de Almeida/ Lusa): Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo fights for the ball with Belgium’s Nicolas Lombaerts during the friendly soccer match between Portugal and Belgium at Magalhães Pessoa Stadium in Leiria on March 29.