Romelu Lukaku has the goals but now wants the glory to match on the international stage…
Belgium’s bid to step up from contenders to champions continues this week when they take on France in the UEFA Nations League semi-finals and their record goalscorer believes now is the time for the Red Devils to turn dreams into reality.
Spain booked their place in the final on Wednesday night with a 2-1 victory against European champions Italy, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso playing the duration for La Roja. Attention now turns to Turin and a quick return to the Juventus Stadium for Lukaku, who recently hit a landmark 100 caps for Belgium.
Those appearance and scoring feats are an understandable source of pride for the 28-year-old but it is silverware for his national team that really motivates the striker, with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in 14 months and the Nations League climax this weekend.
‘One hundred caps is something you really strive to achieve as a young player,’ he told UEFA.com in the build-up to tonight’s last-four clash with Les Bleus.
‘I was lucky that I started out at an early age and nearly 12 years have passed with lots of ups and downs. As a team, we’ve always continued to grow and the ultimate goal remains to win a tournament.
‘We’ve always managed to have a good start at tournaments and the expectations were always high. At Euro 2016, we didn’t deliver and it was very hard. During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, we did quite well [finishing third] but now in the Nations League, we must do really well so that we can peak at the next World Cup.’
Lukaku admits he had a slow goalscoring start on the international stage but it was soon ‘like a sweet store, just constantly scoring goals and at some point I stopped counting.’
Following a brace against Estonia and another strike past Czech Republic during last month’s international break, his latest tally is 57 national team goals. However, it is Lukaku’s characterisation as a target man that rankles slightly with the man from Antwerp, who insists his game is far more rounded than he is often given credit for.
‘The way I’m built – I’m quite big – everybody thinks I’m a sort of target man, just holding up the ball and being a goal poacher but I’ve never played that way and I hate it,’ he continued.
‘My biggest strength is that I’m dangerous when I’m facing towards the goal because that’s when I rarely make wrong choices. After I pass the ball, I know where I have to position myself in the box.
‘I can do a bit of everything and in some games, when I know there is a lot of space behind the defence, I play differently. The reason I’m so productive [in front of goal] is because I can do a bit of everything.’
Roberto Martinez, the Belgium manager who has worked with Lukaku for the best part of a decade, agrees he is now the perfect all-round centre-forward and is hopeful his goals can fire his side to success.
‘When you speak about Romelu, you speak about the outstanding attributes, qualities and his goalscoring numbers,’ the Red Devils boss said this week.
‘He’s a player that if you get in goalscoring positions, his conversion rate is exceptional. I started working with him at the age of 19 and, as with every player, I’ve seen an evolution.
‘Romelu has become a number nine that can do every single function. He can play with his back to play or run in behind. He has the power, pace and understanding of combining with other players. We are talking about a player in a great moment of his career and his outstanding knack has always been scoring goals.’