Friday, June 25, 2021

Belgium 1-0 Croatia: 3 Key Talking Points As Lukaku Strikes In Brussels

Tom Dunstan in Editorial 7 Jun 2021

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In a contest between two nations who were looking to gain some perfect momentum heading into this summer’s European Championships, it was Belgium who left Brussels with a low-key win on home soil.

After only managing to play out a sluggish 1-1 draw against Greece in their opening friendly over the weekend, Roberto Martinez’s side landed themselves a deserved 1-0 victory on Sunday night.

Watching their attacking talisman bag what turned out to be the winner in the first-half, Belgium also pilled even more pressure onto what has been a lacklustre Croatia outfit over the past three years.

Really limping their way into their European adventure this summer, The Blazers have now won just a pair of their last nine matchups across all competitions and never really looked likely to snatch anything on foreign soil.

On a night that also saw Eden Hazard make a cameo appearance, we have taken a look at three big talking points after Sunday’s meeting in Brussels.

Lukaku steals the show

If Belgium were to land themselves some momentum on Sunday night, there was no doubt that a red-hot Romelu Lukaku would spearhead Roberto Martinez’s charge in Brussels.

Enjoying what has been a stunning campaign in Italy and leading Inter Milan to their first Serie A crown over the past decade, the one-time Manchester United striker put in a dominant display and caused nightmares for Croatia’s defence.

Finishing well after he latched onto a bouncing ball in the six-yard box and smashing past Dominik Livaković with just seven minutes until the break, Lukaku also remarkably bagged his 49th international goal in just his previous 51 appearances.

Heavily linked with what could be a record-breaking move away from the San Siro this summer, the 28-year-old was only denied a late second-half header as Croatia’s #1 pulled off a save from point-blank range with just a couple of minutes left.

Underlining why he is now regarded as one of Europe’s elite strikers, Lukaku has his sights firmly set on going on step further after only finishing behind Harry Kane in the race for the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot.

Modric brilliance not enough for Croatia

Although second-half substitute Josip Brekalo might have forced the returning Thibaut Courtois into a smart save with just seconds remaining, Croatia failed to find any real stability and once again highlighted what has been a real three-year dip.

Failing to build off of their showdown against France in the 2018 World Cup final, The Blazers failed to record a single shot on target during the first 45 and offered very little threat to the Real Madrid shot-stopper or Belgium’s aging defence.

While Croatian icon and skipper Luka Modric might have put in another midfield masterclass on the night he earned his 138th international cap, Zlatko Dalić’s side desperately need to find someone to lead their line.

Struggling to fill the void since former marksman Mario Mandžukić retired from international duties back in 2018, Croatia have really failed to show any signs of momentum heading into their European adventure this summer.

Having to settle for what was a shock 1-1 draw against Armenia in their opening friendly contest last week, The Blazers could find themselves in a real battle to secure a route out of Group D.

Belgium miss De Bruyne

While the one-time Wigan boss would have been glad to have seen his side record just their third clean sheet in their last 13 straight attempts, Belgium did struggle to find that creative spark in the final third.

Often reliant on Lukaku to create something for himself, as he showed with his stunning first-half strike that rebounded off Croatia’s crossbar, The Red Devils are still struggling to fill the void left by an injured Kevin De Bruyne.

With Martinez electing to give a run out to both Yannick Carrasco and Dries Mertens, many around Belgium are still left sweating with it confirmed over the weekend that the Manchester City playmaker underwent a ‘small operation’ on the facial injury he suffered in their Champions League final defeat.

Although Belgium might have been without one attacking talisman on Sunday, Martinez would have been glad to have been able to hand Eden Hazard the chance to get some minutes under his belt.

Enduring what has been a torrid year with Real Madrid and mustering just 14 appearances, the former Chelsea star came on for the final 10 minutes alongside 19-year-old Jérémy Doku.

March Reports:

Belgium: Courtois (7), Alderweireld (6.5), Denayer (6.5), Vertonghen (7), Castagne (6.5), L. Dendoncker (7), Tielemans (8), Chadli (6), Mertens (6), Carrasco (7), Lukaku (9)

Subs: Vermaelen (6), T. Hazard (7), Vanaken (6), E. Hazard (6), Doku (6)

Croatia: Livakovic (7), Vrsajiko (7), Vida (6), Caleta-Car (6), Barisic (6.5), Modric (8), Brozovic (6.5), Kovacic (7), Rebic (6), Petkovic (5.5), Perisic (6)

Subs: Gvardiol (6.5), Pasalic (6), Vlasic (6), Kramaric (6), Bekalo (6.5), Orsic (6)

Goals: Lukaku 38′

Yellow Cards: N/A

Red Cards: N/A

Referee: Deniz Aytekin


Tom Dunstan

Formerly of The Independent, Tom is a freelance football and boxing journalist from Essex, England. Currently working for three online publications, Tom is a graduate of the University of Falmouth and has spent the last two years writing across Australia, New Zealand and Asia. He can be followed at @IamTomDunstan



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