Belgium struggle to 3-2 win over Norway in final warm-up
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium laboured 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 morale-boosting victory when forward Romelu Lukaku struck inside three minutes for his fourth goal in four matches.
However defensive frailties allowed Norway to equalise after 21 minutes and take a 2-1 lead early in the second half, leaving Belgium coach Marc Wilmots to devise a plan for their opening match at the finals against Italy on June 13.
The first lapse came midway through a first period that Belgium 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.
Three minutes after the break Norway's Veton Berisha cut in from the right, drifted across the defence and scored.
The visitors seemed to tire in the final quarter, leaving gaps in their defence 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.
It was his first goal for Belgium.
Until then Norway, who lost to Hungary in the playoffs for Euro 2016, offered the sort of tight defence Belgium can expect in Group E, which also features Sweden and Ireland.
Belgium are facing a crisis in defence, 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 defence, where they had a fine season for their club Tottenham Hotspur.
However, Belgium still look exposed.
"We let in two avoidable goals... that cannot happen. We are going to have to work harder," Wilmots said, adding he had already formed a plan for the Italy match.
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.
"They need four days rest and then hopefully they will be fit," Wilmots said.
Nainggolan, who plays for AS Roma, noted that Italy were also missing several players and acknowledged his mistake led to Norway's opener. "But better now than at the Euros," he said.
Norway coach Per-Mathias Hogmo said Belgium could do well in France.
"They score goals in every game. To go to a championship and know that you're going to score one, two, three or four goals, that's great... There is maybe a challenge that they don't have regular full backs."
(Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop and Francesco Guarascio; editing by Ken Ferris)