Inter striker Romelu Lukaku could be in the starting XI for Belgium against Croatia, with coach Roberto Martinez admitting he ‘makes all the difference’ in this World Cup and Zlatko Dalic setting out a plan.
The centre-forward, who is at Inter on loan from Chelsea, arrived in Qatar already suffering from a muscular problem and missed the first game entirely, coming off the bench during their 2-0 defeat to Morocco.
That means the pressure is on as they go into the final group game against Marcelo Brozovic’s Croatia tomorrow, on three points compared to Croatia and Morocco on four.
“I don’t know yet whether Lukaku can start the match, but I hope so,” said Martinez in his press conference.
“For my team, playing with him makes all the difference in the world. He is a natural leader, he holds up the line by himself, is a reference point and is fundamental.”
Although he was not in the starting line-up against Morocco, Lukaku was still spotted giving the pre-match team talk on the pitch and whispering instructions to Kevin de Bruyne ahead of a throw-in.
Lukaku has made only two appearances for Inter since late August due to that thigh strain and a relapse.
Croatia coach Dalic does not believe the coy nature of Martinez’s approach to the game and specifically the presence of the Inter centre-forward.
“We expect Lukaku to play from the start. This means Belgium will change their way of playing, with him as their central figure in attack.
“It’s pointless to challenge him physically, because he is stronger than us. If we get our positioning right and double up the marking, we can resolve half the issues.”