The Inter Milan striker netted twice in his team’s opening match against Russia.
Belgium’s victory over Russia in their opening game of Euro 2020 came as no surprise. The Red Devils, who’d already beaten the 2018 World Cup hosts twice in the qualifying round, repeated the feat at the main event. Romelu Lukaku was the star of the night with a wonderful brace.
Holding a lion’s share of the ball and exhibiting a high-press, Roberto Martinez’s side cut a swathe through Sbornaya. Lukaku scored on either side of a strike from Thomas Meunier, securing a resounding 3-0 win in Saint Petersburg to get Belgium’s campaign off to a flyer.
The former Manchester United striker, in particular, was sharp and continued his prolific run. He has now scored 22 goals in his last 19 games for Belgium. It begs the question – is Lukaku the key to Belgium’s title hopes at Euro 2020?
Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ running out of time
Belgium’s squad is stacked with world-class talents. While the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne are the cream of the crop, the side boasts of several other accomplished figures and rising stars, making them a formidable unit. However, their performances in major tournaments have left a lot to be desired.
A quarterfinal exit from Euro 2016 spelt the end of Marc Wilmots’ reign. Under Roberto Martinez, Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup, but it was termed a failure. “Everybody is still upset about losing to France at the World Cup,” said Jordan Lukaku, Romelu’s brother in a recent interview.
The Red Devils beat Brazil in the quarterfinals, but lost 1-0 to eventual champions France in the final four, although the game could’ve very well gone the other way. Now, in their third tournament as the ‘golden generation,’ expectations are high as ever. But, can they deliver? Well, with Lukaku in the form of his life, there’s every possible chance.
Lukaku is at his prolific best and then some
Romelu Lukaku’s stats are there for all to see. 62 international goals for Belgium at just 28 years of age is no mean feat. Infact, 15 of them have come in as many games since he joined Inter Milan, averaging a goal a game, up from his previous 0.61.
He’s returned to his goalscoring best and both his strikes from last night were emphatic finishes. A strong contender for the Golden Boot already?
But, we saw something more than just that. Lukaku held the ball up excellently, ran at the Russian defence with purpose and linked with wide players to devastating effect. These attributes have always been there in him, but they’ve clearly developed more in the last couple of years.
Lukalu isn’t just a finisher anymore, he is also heavily involved in the build-up. That he managed to pull off so much even without Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings tells you everything you need to know.
De Bruyne and Hazard are top-notch, but Lukaku is Belgium’s key
Eden Hazard has long been the face of this Belgium side. But, injuries, COVID-19, and loss of form have forced them to adapt without his services. With only 26 minutes of game-time since their last Euro qualifying game against Cyprus in November 2019, the Real Madrid star is going to take sometime before recapturing his mojo.
De Bruyne, too, has struggled with injuries since the 2018 World Cup and will be returning from another health concern in Belgium’s next match. He might not hit the throttle immediately either, leaving Lukaku to shoulder most of their attacking burden. But, much to Martinez’s delight, he seems up for it.
Full of energy, poise and shooting precision, the 28-year-old is currently in peak form. As we saw last night too, goals are his raison d’etre. But Lukaku has taken his overall game to new standards altogether. And Belgium are much better for it.
They will of course come across more formidable sides than Russia going forward, although with their prolific number nine firing at all the cylinders, the Red Devils’ ‘golden generation’ will always stand a chance.