Belgian Romelu Lukaku endures another painful 90 minutes at major tournament


Romelu Lukaku wants to be considered one of the best strikers in the world and, by most measures, he is. The 31-year-old has been a consistent goalscorer at every club he has played for and has had moments where he has looked world class.

Unfortunately, the Belgian is prone to performances like Monday’s against Slovakiawhile he seemed a long way from that exalted level as his side surprisingly lost 1-0 in their opening Euro 2024 group match.

Domenico Tedesco’s team arrived at this tournament undefeated in 14 matches (10 wins) and with an offensive plan adapted to Lukaku’s strengths.

It almost resulted in a goal just three minutes later. Jeremy Doku passed three defenders to accelerate the Belgian right wing before delivering a cross. Lukaku had to contort himself into an off-balance position to get a shot off, leading to an effort that was too central and saved by Martin Dubravka.

This has been one of Lukaku’s main frustrations throughout his career; a striker skilled enough to provide his team with a good number of shots per game, but lacking that certain something in the trickiest moments.

No man has scored more goals since Belgiumof the national team as Lukaku, who spent last season at Roma on loan from Chelsea. Only Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal has more international goals than him in men’s European competitions. His scoring rate of 85 goals in 115 matches for Belgium makes him one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of representative football.

However, the striker inflated his lines again yesterday when Yannick Carrasco threw a pass from the left flank towards him just before halftime. He was too slow to attack the ball as he approached and his first touch in trying to set up for the shot was too heavy.

Belgium, which had since lost Ivan Schranz‘s goal, in the seventh minute, required Lukaku to attack the pass as if he were one of the best strikers in the world. What they got was a series of bad touches that sent the ball past Dubravka and the goal posts, ultimately resulting in a goal kick.


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Tedesco did his best to resolve the problem at halftime. Doku and Léandro Trossard exchanged flanks in the second half, with the Manchester City the winger does a little better in partnership with Carrasco, lined up behind him. There was greater impetus to get the ball past Slovakia’s high pressure.

Belgium have attacking threats other than Lukaku, but he remains important in everything they do in front of goal.

A short corner in the 56th minute led to ArsenalTrossard crosses the ball towards Amadou Onana I’m waiting at the back station. THE Everton The midfielder played the ball back to Lukaku, who had created some space in the penalty area and pushed it into the net. It was a well-worked set-piece routine, but it was ruled out as Lukaku was slightly offside when Onana’s header arrived.

After the tragedy of the goals came the farce of the goals.

In the 86th minute, Devastation of Zeno”s long pass on the left finds a replacement in the second half Lois Openda. The 24 year old RB Leipzig the striker, who could one day succeed Lukaku as Belgian scorer, beat Denis Vavro for pace before cutting the ball back for his waiting attacker. Lukaku’s finish was empathetic, in the top corner.

The relief of Belgian fans (it is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 made the short trip to Germany for the tournament) was palpable. But it didn’t last long, with VAR overturning that last apparent equalizer as Openda was adjudged to have used his hand to control the ball when passing Vavro.

Lukaku wasn’t the only Belgian player to be upset yesterday in Frankfurt: Johan Bakayoko had a clear shot off the line – but it was another disappointing personal performance on the big stage, sending him back 18 months, missing a host of chances against Croatia since Belgium, third in the 2018 World Cup, was eliminated from the 2022 version in the group stage.

Having turned 31 last month, Lukaku lacks a little of the pace that made him such a dazzling and deadly scorer in his prime, but the sense of goal remains. Yet the familiar weaknesses in his game (the inconsistent first touch, the sometimes awkward dribbling and the sometimes cautious finishing style) all reared their heads on Monday.

“He’s been playing for Belgium for a long time and he knows how to score goals very well, he showed it,” Tedesco said after the Group E defeat. The Belgian coach could be seen hugging his striker and giving him a chest pat in the team huddle after the full-time whistle.

“He scored two goals tonight but they were disallowed. If he needs anything, I’m here for him. But he’s a top player and he doesn’t need anything in that regard.

Group E Deputy W D L DG SPT

Romania

1

1

0

0

3

3

Slovakia

1

1

0

0

1

3

Belgium

1

0

0

1

-1

0

Ukraine

1

0

0

1

-3

0

Lukaku’s missed chances and bad luck were far from the only factors in Belgium’s defeat, but he occupies a difficult space this summer. He needs to have a good tournament, not only to assert himself as one of the greatest Belgian players of all time, but also to attract suitors on the transfer market. After successive loans from one season to Inter Milan and Roma, he needs to find a new club, and Chelsea are looking to do deals for around £38 million ($48.4 million).

His performance in this surprise defeat will not have convinced the teams in Europe and Saudi Arabia that a move for Lukaku represents a good deal.

Belgium’s final group matches against Romania And Ukraine will offer a chance to put things right, but his window of opportunity at the top of football is closing.

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(Top photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

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