Football

ROMELU LUKAKU (BELGIUM)

LUKAKU: Lead striker for Belgium folowing Benteke's injury - PICTURE: REUTERS

He's just 21 and only became a starter for his country when first-choice striker Christian Benteke suffered a World Cup-ending injury in April.

But Romelu Lukaku is carrying the hopes of a nation in Brazil as Belgium's main goal-getter.

And he is relishing the responsibility.

"I love pressure, I embrace it," he said ahead of Belgium's Group H game against Algeria tonight (Singapore time).

Belgium are the dark horses of the tournament with a squad of young, talented players eager to leave their mark in a competition their country has been absent for 12 years.

"If you are scared of pressure then you cannot play well," said Lukaku, who returned to training only last week following an ankle injury during the Red Devils' friendly against Tunisia on June 8.

The tension in the Belgium camp had been rising in training in the lead up to that match, with crunching tackles that saw two players injured.

"I like it," said Lukaku of the incidents. "You need this. It shows that we want to win. Our training sessions are all like competitive matches."

It prompted Belgium coach Marc Wilmots to tell reporters: "If it had been a proper game there would have been a whole pile of red cards."

Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea to Everton last season, is one of several Belgians in the squad plying their trade for top European clubs, raising expectations among their fans.

Yet, apart from defender Daniel van Buyten, no player has competed at a World Cup.

For Lukaku that is not a problem.

"We have a lot of quality in the team and year after year we have been getting stronger and stronger," said the soft-spoken striker.

Belgium's new Golden Generation includes the likes of Man City's Vincent Kompany, Man United's Adnan Januzaj and Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard.

Ballon d'Or nominee Hazard is regarded as the most talented of the Golden Generation, but Algeria assistant coach Nourredine Kourichi says his team can't just focus on stopping him.

"If we focus on Eden Hazard, we could have some nasty surprises. We know his qualities but also his weak points, but we can't focus especially on him. There are others, like Lukaku," he said.

- Wire Services.


FUN FACT

Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Menama Lukaku is a Belgian footballer who plays as a striker for Chelsea (No. 18) and the Belgium national team (No. 9). He was signed from Lierse.

  • Born: May 13, 1993 (age 21), Antwerp, Belgium
  • Weight: 100kg
  • Height: 1.91m