There is always one team that is expected to perform at the World Cup and falters. Belgium may have won their first game against Panama 3-0, but the team were not impressive and their captain called out the team’s star striker for not turning up in the first half.
Discontent within their ranks? The squad has undoubted quality, but stories like this just make fans wonder if this team is a cohesive unit or a side filled with world-class individuals that can’t play together.
Belgium captain Eden Hazard then added fuel to the fire by saying: “It’s not easy playing with a man missing. At half-time, I told him we needed him.
“He’d been hiding out a bit up front. But once he got in there, involved in the game, like magic, he scored two.
“I hope he understands that now.”
But was he right to say that?
On the face of it, two goals was a great start for Lukaku. No doubt the Manchester United striker will be filled with confidence. Therefore, it came as a great surprise to see his captain call him out for under-performing.
But is there any merit to what he said? Well, Lukaku only played 16 passes in the whole game, less than any starter including goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. His 29 touches also gave him the least amount of any starter as well.
So clearly Lukaku struggled to get into the game, but that could be the fault of his teammates for not getting him the ball.
His two goals will probably paper over the cracks of his performance but on the face of things, Lukaku was not necessarily at his best against Panama.
“As the captain, even if I am not the captain I can talk, on the pitch I try to give my best, if I can help players to be better – I will.
“I just told Romelu [Lukaku] if we want to win the game we need him, not just as a scorer to score goals, but we want him to be involved in the build-up.
“We just talked normally and we won the game in the end so it was fine.”
Hazard has clearly realised that his comments may have been harsh, so it was important for him to act as the captain of the team and make sure that his teammates were protected.
But it clearly shows that the Belgium side are not a solid cohesive unit. Obviously, there are some big personalities in their dressing room and it is not clear if they are capable of playing together.
In Euro 2016 they floundered to an exit against Wales in the quarter-finals. If they fail to do better at this competition, then this squad will likely have the tag as one of the greatest sides to underachieve, must like England’s golden generation of the mid-2000s.
Was he right?
Clearly anyone who watched the Belgium performance in the first half would say that they were poor. They struggled to implement their gameplan and looked plainly average against a side they were expected to dismantle easily.
But should Lukaku shoulder the blame? Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard were particularly wasteful on the ball while the side never looked comfortable playing a 3-5-2.
A combination of poor performances by a few players and a system that never looked comfortable contributed to Belgium’s poor performance.
However, Hazard said something at halftime and that seemed to inspire his team to victory, whether he should have aired that publicly, though, is another matter.
Either way, it will be interesting to see if this story develops over the next few days.
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