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Can Romelu Lukaku Lead Belgium to World Cup Success with Benteke Injured?

Belgium's Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring the opening goal against Croatia during their group A World Cup qualifying soccer match in Zagreb, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
Darko Bandic
Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2014

Aston Villa, Belgium and Christian Benteke himself were all left devastated on Thursday when news broke that the striker would miss six months with an Achilles tendon injury.

As per BBC Sport, the 23-year-old striker suffered the injury in training and will now require surgery, meaning he sits out the remaining weeks of the Premier League season—and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil for his nation.

Many viewers have tipped Belgium's talented young squad to peak at this tournament and believe they could trouble the favourites in the latter stages—Oddschecker.com rank them at fifth-favourites to win—but they will now rely on Romelu Lukaku to lead the attacking line instead.

 

Lukaku at International Level

Belgium aren't going to be left with an inexperienced forward leading the line; despite Lukaku being three years younger than Benteke, he actually has more caps, 27 to the Villa man's 18, though Benteke leads six to five in the goals scored column.

Yves Logghe

Though Lukaku hit two goals for Belgium in 2010, the year he made his international debut, he has only added a further three in the four years (and 19 caps) since then, so it has been far from a smooth progression.

However, the fact that he was a senior international while still in his teens must be taken into account, and the Lukaku who spent most of 2011-12 on the Chelsea bench is not the same forward seen most weeks for Everton these days; he is more confident in his own ability, much more aggressive and a more consistent all-round player after two years of regular game time.

 

Lukaku vs. Benteke

The Belgian forwards have enjoyed, or endured, stop-start campaigns in 2013-14.

Lukaku, Benteke, Mirallas, Hazard
Lukaku, Benteke, Mirallas, HazardSquawka.com

The graphic above shows how they have fared in the Premier League, with Belgian wide forwards Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas added in for further insight and comparison.

At a quick glance, it's clear to see that Lukaku beats his international team-mate in most of the basic metrics for a central striker, though, of course, playing for a far more attack-minded and technical side in Everton, it's perhaps not surprising. Lukaku has 12 goals this term, Benteke 10—but now only the Everton man is likely to add to that tally.

 

Belgium's Attack

It's far from all about the striker for Belgium.

The two mentioned above, Hazard and Mirallas, can provide a goal threat—scoring and creating—from the wide areas as well as behind the striker, while Kevin De Bruyne is also a regular and impressive performer.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - JULY 21: Eden Hazard of Chelsea congratulates Romelu Lukaku after he scored the 3rd goal  during the match between Chelsea and Malaysia XI on July 21, 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
Stanley Chou/Getty Images

Movement, pace and great technique, especially with one-on-one dribbling, is something which the Belgian side looks to use to their advantage, with the centre-forward often a sounding board for those support players to play off and get into the final third.

Lukaku can certainly make a big impact even without hitting the back of the net himself, occupying defenders to create space for those joining him from the second line of attack. Will it be enough to win the World Cup? Almost certainly not, but that was always going to be a mammoth task for Belgium, even with the talent within their ranks.

But it's been 28 years since they last progressed past the first knockout round even, when they reached the semi-finals in Mexico '86. If Lukaku can help them achieve anything even close to that, then Belgium can certainly class this squad, and Brazil 2014, as a huge all-round success.

 

 

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