Lukaku's spot in doubt as Irish plot Belgian downfall

Romelu Lukaku embracing Marc Wilmots after being taken off against Italy. The Everton striker's abject display in their opening group game may prompt his coach to vary his forward selection against the Irish.
Romelu Lukaku embracing Marc Wilmots after being taken off against Italy. The Everton striker's abject display in their opening group game may prompt his coach to vary his forward selection against the Irish.PHOTO: REUTERS

GROUP E

Belgium v Ireland

Singtel TV Ch142 & StarHub Ch220, 8.50pm

BORDEAUX • Having, in the words of coach Marc Wilmots, "lost a battle but not the war", Belgium head into their clash with Ireland eager to atone for their opening defeat by Italy, as debate rages about whether Romelu Lukaku should start.

The Everton striker's profligacy in front of goal contributed to the opening loss and Wilmots has indicated that, with Michy Batshuayi, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke all waiting in the wings, Lukaku could pay the price in Bordeaux.

"Certain other strikers are working very well in training and will maybe get their chance," he said at the Belgian base, before implicitly criticising Lukaku's work-rate.

"I want more pressure on the opposition defence. I watched Romania's striker (Florin Andone) against France. He works hard for the team. That's important."

Lukaku is far from the only Belgian player in the firing line, however, as midfield duo Marouane Fellaini and Radja Nainggolan as well as right-back Laurent Ciman are also at risk of being dropped.

Either captain Eden Hazard or Kevin de Bruyne could play in a central attacking role while Napoli's Dries Mertens may start.

One thing is certain, however - Wilmots will not veer from his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

"I will leave everyone else to judge whether we have been good or not, but I won't change my philosophy," said the 47-year-old. "This is a four-year project. We can't let one defeat call into question everything we have accomplished."

Another loss for Belgium could prove fatal to their prospects, although it is half a century since they lost to Ireland, having never lost to the Irish in a competitive game.

Ireland are looking to build on a promising opening 1-1 draw with Sweden, but coach Martin O'Neill knows Belgium represent an altogether different challenge.

"When the group was announced, I think that Belgium finishing any worse than second is not something that they would have contemplated, so they will be coming out all guns blazing," he said.

"They are possibly the most talented set of individual players at the tournament. It will be a tough night for us. We want to try to make it as tough for them as well."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Lukaku's spot in doubt as Irish plot Belgian downfall'. Print Edition | Subscribe