Belgium v Russia World Cup 2014: Romelu Lukaku - 'Let Fellaini help me up front'

Belgium striker says he is more than just a target man, and calls for a more creative team selection against Russia today

Mogi das Cruzes

The Belgians have been waiting a long time for all this, and it shows. The squad are seen as the fruits of a brilliant coaching culture, but after a 12-year absence from the World Cup finals there is a distinct anxiety about their desire to get things right in Brazil.

LIVE: Follow the latest news from Day 11, including Belgium v Russia

Their base is relaxed enough: the Paradise Golf and Lake Resort, 90 minutes out of Sao Paulo in a rural landscape that time forgot, where basket weavers work at the roadside on the red-clay terrain. But this is new territory for the players. Even their head coach, Marc Wilmots, captain when the side last exited a World Cup, at the hands of a Brazil team who then overcame England in Shizuoka, has been edgy at times. Judging by the opening fixture against Algeria, he has also been overthinking how to get through the group stage, which brings them up against Russia in Rio de Janeiro today.

The decision not to start that first game with Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini caused surprise in Belgium, and in retrospect was an error of judgement. Wilmots’ logic was that the team needed someone with more trickery to get past the North Africans’ five-man defensive block, but Fellaini became the game’s stand-out player in less than half an hour on the field, lifting the team from a poor first-half display.

The 26-year-old must be wondering when someone is going to start believing in his qualities, after a desperate nine months since his move to Old Trafford. He is a mild-mannered and normally gregarious individual, but has retreated from view. For the first time since initially establishing himself at Standard Liège he has not granted an interview to the Belgian media all season.

 

Belgium’s 21-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku said ahead of today’s game that it was time for the English to “stop doubting” Fellaini’s qualities, and for United to stop playing him out of position. “The way he was used last year was not the way he should have been used,” Lukaku told The Independent on Sunday. “I think they should play him higher up the pitch – not as a No 6 but as a No 8, because he scores a lot of goals and covers a lot of the pitch. That’s how he played at Everton, and that’s how he should have played last season.”

Another Belgian chewed up and spat out in England – the 22-year-old Kevin de Bruyne, who is finding himself again at Wolfsburg after a difficult time at Chelsea – also had reasons to doubt Wilmots’ strategy against Algeria. He is the team’s playmaker, even more influential in knitting Belgium together than Eden Hazard, whose threat comes through pace and power – but was deployed on the right in Belo Horizonte. It was when he was restored to central midfield that the Diables Rouges finally found their range.

It was not so straightforward for Lukaku. One match statistic illustrates his struggle to make any impression against Algeria: he had no touches of the ball in the penalty area, and was withdrawn just before the hour. It is a widely held view around the Belgian camp that the Chelsea striker – Wilmots’ main goalscoring option here in Christian Benteke’s absence – is not the finished article. His season’s work at Everton with Roberto Martinez, who wants him back on loan, has certainly added a more technical element to his game. He is linking up more with the midfield than the more technically gifted Benteke does. But his ball retention was poor last week in a game which left him complaining that he had been used too much as a target man, a familiar refrain – Lukaku hates his reputation as a big man in the box.

He made no secret of his desire to see Fellaini (left) start today. “It is always better for me when Fellaini plays. He can give power and presence in the box,” he said. “The defenders always have an eye on Fellaini and that then creates space for me. The next game will be much better, as in the first game we played under a lot of pressure.”

Wilmots has insisted his captain, Vincent Kompany, is fit despite a groin strain preventing him training for two days. His partner in central defence is likely to be Daniel van Buyten, the only survivor of the 2002 exit, which came after a headed goal from Wilmots against Brazil was controversially disallowed. Van Buyten is not the most mobile, but has accelerated ahead of Belgium’s vice-captain, Thomas Vermaelen, in the pecking order in the past six months. Manchester United’s interest in Vermaelen belies his collapse in form and self-confidence for Belgium. He was poor against Luxembourg in a warm-up game, and few complained when Van Buyten was preferred to him last week.

Lukaku suggested that Belgium, with their galaxy of Premier League stars, might become the team English fans now follow. But it is in keeping with Belgium’s early uncertainties that no one is expecting success to last too long. They will probably face Portugal in the last 16.

“So our fate is with Cristiano Ronaldo,” said one source close to the camp. “If he plays well, Portugal are better than us. If he doesn’t they are not.” Being among world-beaters is one thing. Thinking like them is something else entirely.

Belgium v Russia is live on BBC1 Sunday, kick-off 5pm

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
Voices
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959
voicesWard committed no crime, and the truth is still being covered up, writes Geoffrey Robertson QC
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
Sport
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas