Romelu Lukaku hopes ‘reality check’ rouses Belgium

Everton striker says victory over Ireland necessary to keep second-round hopes alive

Romelu Lukaku was one of the players responsible for missing Belgium’s opportunities against Italy in Lyon. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Romelu Lukaku was one of the players responsible for missing Belgium’s opportunities against Italy in Lyon. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

 

His hood was up, his mood was down. Romelu Lukaku stopped in the bowels of the Stade de Lyon on Monday night and addressed Belgium’s opening 2-0 defeat by Italy and where this leaves Marc Wilmots’ hitherto fancied team as they prepare to face Martin O’Neill’s men in Bordeaux on Saturday.

“It’s a bad start,” was how Lukaku began.

“It was very difficult against a team that is really smart tactically, with the two strikers up front and runners in midfield. But you have to stay positive and work hard.

“We have a good team, we have a lot of qualities, but you have to be clinical in those type of games because you don’t get a lot of chances. And we weren’t. They were. And scored their chances.”

Lukaku was one of those responsible for missing Belgium’s opportunities. At 1-0 down early in the second half, he flighted a shot wide when a player of his previous form was expected to float it in.

Lukaku lasted another 20 minutes before Divock Origi came on for him. It was Liverpool replacing Everton but the finishing remained Tranmere Rovers.

Asked about that wastefulness, Lukaku replied: “Of course. It’s all about goals in football. You have to score to win games. They [Italy] did that, we didn’t.”

Spring in their step

If that sounded a simplistic assessment of the match, there was an element of truth to it. Had Divock Origi buried his 89th-minute header, which inexplicably he missed altogether, the game would have ended 1-1 and Belgium would be making for Bordeaux with a spring in their step.

Instead Lukaku was talking about a reality check for a collection of Belgian players who continue to be less than the sum of their parts.

Is this expectation around the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne a burden?

“No,” Lukaku said, “we have both feet on the ground. We know what we have to do now.

“A lot of people were talking before the tournament about what we can do but we faced a reality [check] today and sometimes that’s good – to know you still have a long way to go.

“We played against a team that is known for being tactically very strong, very efficient and that’s what we have to learn. If you want to become a big nation, sometimes you have to deal with setbacks. We have to move on, become stronger, work even harder.”

As for Saturday, Lukaku was blunt: “We have to win against Ireland now.

“We have to play good football as well. Winning is the most important thing.

“Ireland has a good team. Defensively they’re very good and upfront they have players who can make a difference. They’ve got a lot of experience with Robbie Keane and Shane Long, and McClean from the left can make a difference. So it’s going to be difficult. You have to be wary of that.”

It is not an easy situation for beaten players. Most tend to shuffle past waiting reporters but Lukaku, and Origi, both spoke calmly.

Less convincing

Meanwhile their under-pressure manager Wilmots was on a television screen sounding less convincing.

Whereas O’Neill knows his team played well in drawing with Sweden and can motivate his players with that knowledge, Wilmots has to drag some cohesion from a group, two of whom – Toby Alderweirald and De Bruyne – he questioned in the post-match press conference.

Wilmots also has his goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, saying: “We were outclassed on all fronts.

“Tactically, technically and organisationally we came up short.”

Belgium travel to Bordeaux neither sounding nor looking assured.

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