He didn’t make it onto the score sheet, but Romelu Lukaku’s leadership of Belgium in counter-attacks was vital in keeping Portugal at bay – plus the stark contrast between Ronaldo and Lukaku made the Belgian star striker shine even brighter, writes Amarachi Orie.
Romelu Lukaku was instrumental for Belgium in maintaining a 1-0 lead over Portugal, seeing his team through to the next round of the Euros. After aiding Belgium to back-to-back victories in the group stages by scoring three goals, he took on a more subdued but assertive role this time around.
The match was supposed to be the battle between two strikers: Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, neither of them scored. The Portugal forward did not even see much of the ball and did not prove himself to be a strong contender in the match.
The Serie A champion, however, was the leader of his pack, overcoming the defending Champions with an assured performance.
10 minutes into the game, the number 9 was linking up with number 10, Eden Hazard, around the penalty box. Lukaku set up Hazard to score, but the attempt went over the bar. However, the striker was already hinting at the important role he would play in keeping his team active around the goal post.
Play was generally sluggish and inanimate for the first half. However, Lukaku did not let it remain that way. He made a break for goal during a 37th-minute counterattack but was eventually stopped in his tracks.
At the very least, he re-energised his team and reminded them to keep heading forward toward the target: the goal. Thomas Meunier tried to curl a shot into goal just seconds later. While he did not succeed, an inspired Thorgan Hazard was able to secure a lead for Belgium just minutes later.
Lukaku spread himself out to keep possession of the ball on the edge of the penalty box. The ball soon found its way to Hazard, who took a daring shot from outside the box and put it in the back of the net. Belgium were woken out of their slumber, driven forward by a persistent Lukaku.
The second half for Belgium was all about keeping hold of their hard-earned lead. The best way Lukaku thought of doing this was by keeping his team on the attack. He was confident in protecting the ball from the likes of Pepe.
While Portugal were trying for an equaliser, whenever they lost the ball to Belgium, Lukaku was ready to lead the attack, taking a strike for himself in the 63rd minute which failed to materialise. The intention, however, was just to keep pushing ahead.
A frustrated Pepe created a feud with the competitive Inter Milan forward, giving him a head injury while bringing him down. Even after Lukaku received treatment and returned to the pitch, tension remained. However, the Belgian striker kept the advantage.
With 10 minutes left to go, Portugal intensified their play to try to equalise before the final whistle. However, Lukaku did not let them have full control. From setting up chances for Eden Hazard, to winning a free kick and making a 40-yard run, he kept the balance of play in Belgium’s favour until the very end.
Lukaku’s determination meant that his team survived a Portugal barrage to reach the quarter-finals of the Euros where they will face Italy. Like Belgium, Italy have not lost a match so far during their Euros 2020 campaign, but the Belgium striker could soon put an end to that.
If Belgium’s opponents want to win in the next round, they will have to find a way of keeping an indomitable Lukaku in check.
Follow Amarachi on Twitter @iamarachii