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Christian Eriksen’s collapse had major impact on Belgium dressing room, reveals close pal Romelu Lukaku after tribute

IT was the backdrop to Belgium’s win over Russia that made their opening performance in Group B all the more remarkable.

Just five minutes after watching Christian Eriksen get carried off in Copenhagen, Roberto Martinez was supposed to conduct a pre-match briefing for their evening game.

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The Belgian boss realised very quickly that this would be a worthless endeavour.

There were tears in the team room on Saturday, not least from talisman Romelu Lukaku who is close friends with Inter Milan team-mate Eriksen.

So much so that Lukaku admitted later he 'spent more time with him than my own family' during his time in Italy.

Lukaku said: "I cried a lot because I was scared, obviously."

Equally shaken would have been defenders Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who played alongside Eriksen at Ajax and Tottenham.

Both were starters in Saint Petersburg, but their thoughts at that moment were very much in Copenhagen.

Spaniard Martinez said: "We were watching it live, then in the next five minutes were going to our team meeting.

"You can imagine that the last thing we wanted to speak about was football.

"There was a real shock - a real sadness.

"There were tears. We have got a lot of team-mates in our dressing room who have shared big moments with Christian.

"From Thomas Vermaelen to Toby Alderweireld to Jan Vertonghen and now currently Romelu Lukaku.

"We then all got better news about his recovery and our thoughts are with Christian."

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Indeed, it was that more encouraging news prior to kick-off that perhaps allowed the world’s top-ranked team to refocus on the job in hand.

What a performance they put on, too. Not least by Lukaku, who was determined not only to score but send a message to pal Eriksen live on TV.

His turn and shot back across the goalkeeper for a tenth-minute opener against the Russians was followed by a dash to the camera and shout of, 'Chris, Chris, I love you'.

Thomas Meunier added a second on 34 minutes before turning supplier two minutes from time by sliding in Lukaku for his second and Belgium’s third.

The former Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea striker now has 62 goals in just 94 appearances for his country and helped turn Inter into Serie A champions.

Now, when judging this performance, also factor in that they did it without key man Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City superstar has recovered from surgery on a facial injury but not soon enough to play their opener.

The experienced and influential Axel Witsel is in the squad, but not a starter, having been out since January after rupturing an Achilles tendon.

Then there is Eden Hazard. For so long the 108-cap superstar has been at the heart of what the Red Devils do. In the last World Cup in 2018, Fifa named him the second best player in the tournament and awarded him the Silver Ball.

But his fall from grace since moving from Chelsea to Real Madrid two years ago has been so dramatic that even his lesser-known brother Thorgan gets a start ahead of him.

And it was Thorgan's ball from the right - spilled by keeper Anton Shunin - that set up Meunier for No 2.

Consider how Meunier became involved in the game, too, when assessing this opening performance from the Belgians.

Leicester defender Timothy Castagne was taken off with the same injury suffered by De Bruyne - a broken eye socket - following a sickening clash of heads in the 27th minute.

He will play no further part in the tournament.

But the enforced switch proved seamless as right-back Meunier came on and took to his task so impressively.

He is another who plays for Borussia Dortmund - how does that Bundesliga side do it?

Meunier scored just seven minutes after coming on and, two minutes from time, he waltzed through a now static Russian side to slip Lukaku in for his second.

Foxes star Youri Tielemans had long since outsmarted the opposition’s press to dominate midfield.

There will be greater challenges ahead, of course.

But the first team to qualify for these finals has already served notice that they aim to be the last to leave.

Read our Football live blog for the very latest news from around the grounds

Romelu Lukaku dedicates goal to Inter Milan team-mate Christian Eriksen as he scores for Belgium against Russia

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