Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku underlined his status as one of the world’s top strikers with his 60th international goal to secure a 1-0 win over Croatia in their Euro 2020 warm-up on Sunday night.
Lukaku struck from a goalmouth scramble in the 38th minute to win the match for the top-ranked Belgians, who will start the Euros in confident mood after a convincing performance.
They shrugged off a bright start from Croatia to enjoy a comfortable victory, which might have had a more commanding scoreline had they taken all of their chances, as they confirmed their status as one the Euro 2020 favourites.
The goal came when fellow European Championship contenders Croatia failed to clear a corner and Lukaku was first to swivel and hook the ball home after Jason Denayer laid it on for him. Lukaku had crashed a powerful strike against the crossbar seven minutes earlier as he shrugged off three markers to turn and fire goalwards.
Yannick Carrasco was first to the rebound but sent his header against the bar too. Lukaku should have had a second goal three minutes from the end but Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic made a goal-line stop at point-blank range to keep out his powerful header.
Carrasco and Nacer Chadli blazed good chances wide while Croatia’s best opportunity fell to substitute Josip Brekalo in stoppage time but he was denied by keeper Thibaut Courtois.
“I did what I had to do for the team,” said Lukaku after the match. “This result gives us a great feeling. Now it’s just a matter of getting a bit sharper and getting the other players 100% ready,” he added, with captain Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel all battling for fitness. “Then a lot is possible.”
Hazard made his first appearance for Belgium since November 2019 as a substitute for the last eight minutes as he searches for fitness after an injury-plagued season. It increased his chances of starting Saturday’s Group B match against Russia in St Petersburg.
De Bruyne teams up with
Belgium squad after surgery
Kevin De Bruyne joined up with the Belgium squad yesterday but remains a major doubt for their Euro 2020 opener against Russia after undergoing minor surgery on a facial injury, his coach Roberto Martinez said.
“Kevin De Bruyne has joined the group and that’s fantastic news. He looks ready, he looks fresh, and just to see him walking into the dining room was a real highlight of the day,” Martinez told reporters at Belgium’s team base near Brussels.
The Manchester City playmaker underwent “a small operation” on his face on Saturday morning after suffering fractures to his nose and left eye socket in a collision with Chelsea’s Antonio Ruediger in the Champions League final on May 29.
Martinez admitted De Bruyne may struggle to be ready to play against Russia in Saint-Petersburg in Belgium’s first Group B game on Saturday. “He joins the medical department now for the next few days and then whenever we get the green light he is going to be integrated into the sporting side,” said the former Everton manager. “At the moment I am not counting on Kevin to be in the first game but if that changes it will be because he adapts well to his own programme,” he continued, adding that “it is to early to decide” when he will be able to play.
Belgium, who travel to Saint-Petersburg on Friday, will also face Denmark in Copenhagen on June 17 and Finland, back in Russia, on June 21. On Sunday De Bruyne became just the third player to win the English Professional Footballers’ Association’s (PFA) player of the year prize for a second consecutive season.
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