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Belgians fret over Big Rom
by Paul Kennedy, June 29th, 2014 2:52AM
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TAGS:  belgium, men's national team, world cup 2014


[BRAZIL 2014] Some American fans might be wondering what's going on with Michael Bradley, but his coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, is full of praise for his influence on the team. ("Overall, I am very, very happy with him," says Klinsmann.) But that's nothing like the concern in Belgium for center forward Romelu Lukaku, who was taken off in the middle of a second straight poor game against Russia and brushed aside the handshake of his coach, Marc Wilmots.

With first-choice center forward Christian Benteke not in Brazil because of a torn Achilles tendon suffered in training with Aston Villa in April, the 21-year-old Lukaku was counted upon to lead the Belgium attack at the World Cup. But the Red Devils' offense has sputtered. They have scored just four goals in three games, all in the last 20 minutes.

The winner against Russia came from Lukaku's replacement, Divock Origi, the teenage son of a former Kenyan international. To make matters worse for Lukaku, who sat out the third game against South Korea, Belgium's Queen Mathilde, thinking he was Origi, congratulated him scoring the winning goal against Russia, not realizing that Lukaku, who she knew from his dreadlocks, had cut them. Lukaku had to point to Origi and tell the queen, "Ah, no. He's over there."

The queen apologized later, saying her mistake was that she had not studied the Panini cards of the Belgium players closely enough. She also said she wouldn't hear the end of it from her son, Gabriel.

Wilmots chose not make a big deal over Lukaku's brushing away his coach's hand when he went off in the Russia game. He said Lukaku's problem was that he was putting too much pressure on himself.

"I know Lukaku can do better and he knows that, too," said Wilmots. "He’s still very important for us.”

The son of a former Congolese international, Lukaku was considered the star of the "Golden Generation" of Belgian players, scoring 16 goals for Anderlecht in his season at the age of 16. But a move to Chelsea two years later did not turn out well and he's been loaned out each of the last two Premier League seasons, first to West Brom and then to Everton, where he played with U.S. goalie Tim Howard.

Lukaku scored 17 goals from West Brom and 15 for Everton, confirming his status as one of the top young forwards in the EPL. Still, he would have been projected to be Benteke's backup at the World Cup if the Aston Villa striker had not been hurt.

Howard said he didn't want to read too much of anything into Lukaku's performances in his the first games.

"I've seen some of the games," Howard said, "but Romelu was brilliant for us at Everton. He went through a spell at one point where he wasn't scoring every game and all of a sudden he caught fire again. So, I wouldn't read too much into that."

Injury Report

BELGIUM. Add Moussa Dembele to the list of injured Belgian players. He didn't train Saturday at its training complex at the Golf & Paradise Lake Resort in Mogi das Cruzes. Captain Vincent Kompany and Laurent Ciman also missed training, while Thomas Vermaelen worked on his own. Anthony Vanden Borre has already been ruled out of the World Cup with a broken ankle.

The Red Devils were down to 15 field players at training, playing 7-on-7 in training with Origi as a free player for both teams. One of the players is Steven Defour, who is suspended for the U.S. game, leaving Belgium with potentially as few as 14 available field players on Tuesday.

USA. Jozy Altidore continued to train on his own, jogging with Masa Sakihana, at the USA's training facility at Sao Paulo FC. While Klinsmann has said he was very optimistic.

  1. M B
    commented on: June 30, 2014 at 9:08 a.m.
    Lukaku will just be one more like the Mpensa brothers who had so much raw talent but nothing upstairs. Let's just all be candid. Some players never understand that the brain is the most important muscle. One gets the impression that, at the very experienced and all-knowing age of 21 (yes, heavy sarcasm), Romelu isn't letting anyone tell him anything or what to do, when, where. He's got it all under control and knows best. Instead of being eternally grateful to be selected for the best Belgian squad since the team of 1986, he's an uppity brat. Remind you of that nationalized Italian Balotelli? He should. Same, same. Wilmots will use Miralles and Mertens, Dembele and other options. Lukaku's World Cup is done - unless dire injury or illness situation means Lukaku is about the only option. It really is a shame. Belgium has the players that one wants to see. They acutally have very on the ball talented defenders who have real skill - unlike the US players. Hazard and De Bruyne, if they play right, actually make one enjoy the game. Chadli is underperforming just as he did last season at Tottenham Spurs. Too bad. He has actual talent too. If one enjoys the true game, let's hope that Belgique wins. The USA team is just horrid. Not one actually skilled player with real technical abilities (when under real pressure and in a tense match setting) out there.
  1. Andrea Hana
    commented on: June 30, 2014 at 5:09 p.m.
    MB- The U.S., not a "soccer" or "football" nation primarily by tradition, is not going to brag about their overall skills. However, they've come this far, surprising themselves and everyone else. To be quite honest, the performance of the Belgium team is nothing to brag about either. Tim Howard is a world class keeper, even according to one of Belgium's own, Kevin Mirallas (forward). The US team isn't "horrid", as you would suppose. If you take a look at the performance of the WC teams overall, not ONE of them has performed as expected, except, perhaps, the German team. Be glad that Belgium is playing US, instead. :P

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