Saturday, July 20, 2024

Sweden 0-3 Belgium: Talking points as Lukaku stars in Devils victory in Stockholm

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial 25 Mar 2023

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Belgium started their Euro 2024 qualifications in an impressive manner, triumphing convincingly over Sweden at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.

In terms of goals scored, their victory was solely the work or Romelu Lukaku, who put the ball into the opposition net in the 35th, 49th, and 82nd minute, and there’s no place better to start than the hat-trick hero.

The Lukaku conundrum

Lukaku has been the subject of numerous articles in the media across Europe recently. Ditched by Chelsea practically for the second time in his career, and that after the London Blues paid around €115 million to bring him back in from Inter Milan in 2021, he returned to Inter on loan ahead of this season. His form since has been nowhere near as good as that of his previous stint at the club, when he helped the Nerazzurri win the 2020/21 Scudetto, and Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta has already made it clear the 29-year-old would not be staying in Milan past the expiration of the current arrangement, acknowledging that he simply wasn’t the same player anymore.

Therefore, Lukaku will return to Chelsea, but what then?

It’s not very likely that situation there will be any different in terms of him being wanted at Stamford Bridge. The Blues have strengthened their attacking ranks significantly, and they’ll almost certainly be open to offers for Lukaku’s services. He’s been linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich recently, but whether those rumours hold any truth, remains to be seen.

Come what might, Lukaku delivered the perfect response to Marotta and everyone else who doubts his quality in Stockholm. Yes, his first goal was a free header and the other two were pretty simple tap-ins, but an important trait of a good striker is to know where to be in such situations and to take such chances when they come.

Belgian wingers

There were four Belgium players in this game who are wingers by default, and while the football world knows plenty about Leandro Trossard and Yannick Carrasco on the left, it was actually Dodi Lukebakio and Johan Bakayoko who dazzled more, attacking from the right.

Lukebakio started on the right side of the midfield four. He displayed impressive ability to beat his markers, or create space to shoot or whip in a cross, and that ability played the greatest part in the making of the first two goals. Further more, the Hertha Berlin winger worked very well with captain Kevin De Bruyne on the flank, with the Manchester City star frequently overlapping to provide options for his pacey teammate.

After an hour, Lukebakio made way for Bakayoko, and the prospect wasn’t any better for the Swedish defence. The 19-year-old PSV Eindhoven man showed his talents in the 82nd minute, taking advantage of a mixup between Viktor Claesson and Ludwig Augustinsson to charge down the flank and deliver a perfect low ball for the unmarked Lukaku on the far post to score the last goal of the match.

It feels fair to say that newly appointed Belgium boss Domenico Tedesco has options on the attacking flanks, despite someone like Eden Hazard retiring from international football after the World Cup in Qatar.

The game

Looking at the big picture, the fact that Belgium deserved the full prize in this match cannot be disputed. The visitors went out to attack from the start, dominating the proceedings with 53% possession and eight shots in total, compared to Sweden’s six.

Carrasco had several opportunities to score, the first really big one coming less than six minutes in as Lukebakio and De Bruyne combined well on the left and the captain whipped a cross for him on the far post, but his effort was deflected wide of the target by Linus Wahlqvist. In the 26th minute, Lukebakio found Arthur Theate on the far post and the left-back sent a looping header, forcing an acrobatic save from Robin Olsen in the Sweden goal.

Not that Jan Andersson’s men didn’t have chances of their own during the game. Belgium were pretty shaken in the 15th minute, when Tottenham Hotspur’s Dejan Kulusevski broke down the right and squeezed a shot from a tight angle past Thibaut Courtois, and the ball was creeping in when Wout Faes cleared it off the very line.

Sweden were actually the better team for a portion of the game, mostly between the second and the third goal when they really gave it all to try and turn things around. In this period, Alexander Isak scuffed a shot from the edge of the box, an unmarked Emile Forsberg slipped when he should’ve buried a shot from around 15 yards, and the same thing happened to Mattias Svanberg soon after from a very similar situation.

But when Lukaku scored the third, the game was settled and there was no way back for the home side.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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