Soccer-Red-hot Lukaku remains Belgium's talisman at European Championship


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Group B - Belgium v Russia - Gazprom Arena, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 12, 2021 Belgium's Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring their third goal Pool via REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo

FRANKFURT, Germany (Reuters) - Romelu Lukaku cut a disbelieving figure after missing a succession of chances in Belgium’s 0-0 draw with Croatia that sealed an early exit from the 2022 World Cup, but returns to the big stage at the European Championship hoping to banish those memories.

A half-fit Lukaku managed 53 minutes across Belgium’s three games in Qatar and was not at fault for their disastrous group-stage campaign, but it was a low point for the 31-year-old who has since bounced back to form in the national team jersey in spectacular style.

He will lead the line against Slovakia in Belgium’s Group E opener in Frankfurt on Monday having scored 17 goals in 11 national team appearances since the World Cup.

That total includes four in 27 minutes against Azerbaijan in their final qualifier. He was leading scorer in the Euro 2024 preliminaries, having found the back of the net 14 times.

While he has not always been able to hit top gear at club level in the past few seasons, when he pulls on the red of Belgium, Lukaku can be unstoppable.

He is their all-time leading scorer with 85 goals in 115 caps since 2010, with Eden Hazard next on the list with 33.

The first six years of Lukaku’s international career were unremarkable with 11 goals in 42 caps but since 2016 he has netted a further 74 times in 73 games.

"His goals speak for themselves but there's more to him than that. He knows exactly when he should pass if he has his back to goal or if he can turn round and shoot at goal himself," Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco told UEFA.com.

"He is dangerous in lots of situations, not just in set pieces and crosses. In the last third of the pitch, he is unpredictable and difficult to defend against. I don't think many defenders would choose to defend against him."

Tedesco, who took over from Roberto Martinez in February 2023 in the wake of the World Cup failure, and is unbeaten in his 15 matches in charge, says Lukaku has a positive influence away from the pitch too.

"His importance off the pitch is undoubted because he knows lots of players, particularly young players, whom he can look after and become a mentor to.

"He concerns himself with many things, he looks after many things in the dressing room, which makes him extremely important."

(Reporting by Nick Said; editing by Clare Fallon)

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