Lukaku Stars and Fellaini Comes Through Unscathed as Belgium Punch Brazil Ticket
The two were among five Premier League-based starters for the Red Devils but were the most influential representatives of the English top flight at Stadion Maksimir, where three points ensured their side’s status as Group A winners and participation in December’s Group Stage draw in Bahia.
Lukaku, in particular, was irresistible in Zagreb.
Once again the 20-year-old put in a performance that must surely have given Jose Mourinho fits—the Chelsea manager having loaned the striker to Everton early last month.
Coming into Friday’s match without a competitive goal for his country, Lukaku not only rose to the occasion but did so in a manner that put the rest of the world on alert. He will be a force to be reckoned with in Brazil—a player with the pace, power and poise to win a game on his own.
He displayed all three characteristics in the Croatian capital.
After just 15 minutes, he had opened the scoring—accepting Steven Defour’s sublime through ball before controlling it through a pair of defenders, rounding the goalkeeper and slipping it into the back of the net.
And seven minutes before the break, he simply out-ran his marker to a loose ball, galloped in on goal and calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net after Stipe Pletikosa managed to make a partial save.
All told it was a masterful display from Lukaku, and he was awarded a rest from manager Marc Wilmots when he was withdrawn in favour of Nacer Chadli with 21 minutes remaining.
Fellaini, too, will have impressed his manager against Croatia.
Playing the full 90 minutes despite a hand injury that will have to be dealt with following the international break, the 25-year-old put in an aggressive showing at a hostile ground on Friday, both making plays for his attacking teammates and defending from advanced positions.
Touching the ball 56 times as Belgium spent much of the first three-quarters of the contest in the attacking third, Fellaini completed 77 per cent of his passes—many up top to Lukaku or out wide to either Eden Hazard or Kevin De Bruyne—and also turned play back the other way with three successful tackles (statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com).
It was the sort of showing Manchester United fans have been keen to see since his September arrival from Everton, and that the quality of his performance was so tremendously higher for his country than those he has so far put in for his club may have served to ruffle a few feathers.
But it was an example of what he is capable of against top opposition. While United supporters will be hoping to see something similar over the next few months, Chelsea fans will have to wait until next season to watch Lukaku work his magic for them.
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