Romelu Lukaku will be able to bite his fingers. The Belgian striker will have had a multitude of opportunities to score against Croatia…in vain. After its 0-0 against the Croats, the Red Devils are well and truly eliminated from the 2022 Football World Cup.
These opportunities in shambles, the Belgian giant did not manage to push them to the bottom, sometimes in general incomprehension. To the point that the center-forward (29), who arrived in Qatar diminished by a thigh injury, seemed only a shadow of himself and leaves with an immense feeling of waste.
Lukaku, semi-finalist of the 2018 World Cup with the Red Devils, should have been one of the headliners of the World Cup four years later. But the Inter Milan giant, a “prolific” striker likely to instill “fear” in the opponent (according to Kevin De Bruyne), hit the Croatian post and missed several unmissable opportunities to save Belgium, after entering at the break.
“Yes, he missed chances but I don’t think it’s his fault,” defended his young teammate Jérémy Doku. Lukaku left the field, burying his head in his jersey, immediately consoled by Thierry Henry, assistant to coach Roberto Martinez, and several other members of the Belgian staff… And, frustrated and angry, the striker gave a big blow in the bench frame.
This match will have been a beautiful summary of Lukaku’s season, infuriating and unfinished: at the Ahmad bin Ali stadium, we still had to wait to see Lukaku at work, replacing at kick-off, as during the 2- 0 against Morocco, where he only entered in the 81st minute (2-0).
It is that the top scorer in the history of the Belgian selection (68 goals) arrived in Qatar dragging his spleen and his nagging injury to the left hamstring. Injured in August before relapsing in early November, he landed in Doha on one leg, deemed “medically unfit” by his coach Roberto Martinez, and was probably too tight to last 90 minutes.
But Belgium had the hope of recovering it as quickly as possible, as the Devils’ game seemed deserted without the center forward of Inter Milan to fix the defenses and finish the actions. So, since the Belgians were on the verge of elimination on Thursday, Martinez launched “Big Rom” at the break.
“We can’t blame him”
“Medically he wasn’t fit to start the game and I think you saw that. We used him late in the game where there was more space, he moved well but did not score unfortunately”, summarized the Spanish technician, who announced in passing his departure from the selection.
With Lukaku on the field, we immediately saw the difference: the entry of a real center forward, powerful and valuable in the discounts, transformed the match. But when you haven’t played for so long, with only a big half-hour of competition in your legs since this summer, how can you regain the goalscorer’s reflexes and confidence as quickly as possible?
“I wouldn’t say he’s the anti-hero because he’s there for the chances, he also creates them, he gives, he keeps the ball, he weighs,” said full-back Timothy Castagne. “Maybe if he’s not there, we don’t have those chances. I don’t think we can blame him, he gave everything, he tried. If it doesn’t fit , it doesn’t fit.”
Looking haggard, Lukaku must have wondered how he could have missed the inevitable, single-handedly embodying the setbacks of the Belgian golden generation, never rewarded with a title worthy of their talent…