BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) Romelu Lukaku knows he bears a huge responsibility before Belgium kicks off its World Cup campaign against Algeria on Tuesday.
The 21-year-old Lukaku has taken up the role of Belgium’s central striker after an injury to Christian Benteke ruled him out of the tournament, and he’s relishing it.
”I love pressure. I embrace it,” he said. ”If you are scared of pressure, you don’t play well.”
Article continues below ...
The young striker has already proved that he’s well beyond his years in dealing with difficult situations. Before Chelsea sent Lukaku on a season-long loan to Everton, the striker said he would send a message to manager Jose Mourinho that he was ready to be the Premier League club’s main striker. Lukaku did just that, scoring 16 goals in all competitions for Everton.
Demonstrating his importance to Belgium’s plans, Lukaku caused great concern when he injured his right ankle in a 1-0 win over Tunisia in a friendly on June 7. The following day, he showed off a huge bandage strapped to it. The thought of Belgium without its two main strikers put the nation’s football fans on edge.
It turned out to only be a strain and he resumed training days later. Lukaku appeared to be fully fit during a training session Sunday on Belo Horizonte’s outskirts, showing that the injury is behind him as the team prepares for the Group H opener.
Two other players who picked up knocks in a Saturday practice match, Kevin De Bruyne and Divock Origi, also trained normally Sunday.
Belgium is playing in its first World Cup since 2002 and expectations are high.
”We expect to play three good games and we’ll see where we belong,” midfielder Nacer Chadli said. ”I think we are a good generation and we have to prove it on the pitch.”
Chadli, of Moroccan parentage, said he knows a lot of about Algeria’s team, which will bid to do what the nation couldn’t do in the 1982 World Cup – get past the group stage.
”It is a neighboring country,” Chadli said. ”I know a lot about Algeria and it’s special, but it’s not extraordinary. In the past it was more.”
Lukaku, meanwhile, realizes the importance of Belgium’s return to the World Cup after 12 years. He said while he carries a lot of the weight of expectations, the whole team will need to contribute.
”It’s been a long time since we have been at a major tournament,” he said. ”It’s not about me scoring. It’s about the team winning.”