Don't make Lukaku angry

Don't make Lukaku angry
Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring during the first half of extra time in the Round of 16.

Brazil's Hulk gets all the lazy headlines, but Romelu Lukaku is the striker who really shouldn't be made angry.

Americans didn't like him when he's angry. The Belgians love him this morning (Singapore time).

A week is a long time in football, but one he'll remember for a lifetime.

Two matches ago, a flash of anger betrayed him. The Chelsea striker was understandably hooked by Marc Wilmots for an abject display against Russia.

Lukaku had lived up to the stubborn stereotype that clings to his name. When he's good, he's sublime. When he's bad, he's anonymous.

He invented invisibility against the Russians. Before his inevitable substitution, he had played 113 World Cup minutes and touched the ball in the opposition penalty area just once.

He had drifted to the periphery of proceedings and stayed there. Wilmots wisely brought him in from the cold.

But he reacted. The Belgian bench saw it. The cameras captured it. He was spotted expressing his disgust at being withdrawn.

Pride comes before a fall, but he had fallen against Russia. The pride was misplaced.

Still, he sulked in silence, slipping away from the public eye as Belgium progressed to the knockout stages with a similar lack of fanfare. His coach might have punished him accordingly, but Wilmots is a wily, canny operator.

Still without a competitive defeat since 2012, the master motivator played Dr Banner to the real Hulk of this World Cup. He channelled Lukaku's anger. He allowed it to fester against the Americans this morning, building to an explosive climax.

And then he unleashed the beast.

Lukaku didn't arrive, he erupted. When he came on in extra time, Lukaku left fatigued fullbacks in his slipstreams.Trying to keep up was a fool's errand; like chasing hot lava. The Americans couldn't catch his shadow.

For the opening goal, Lukaku didn't beat Matt Besler or brush him aside. He just ignored him, wandering past like Godzilla making his way through Manhattan's static skyscrapers.

He defined the quintessential dark horse not once, but twice.

He galloped past Besler to cut back for Kevin de Bruyne's tap-in and then he cantered through the American defence, scorching the left side of the box before rifling the ball past Tim Howard for the second goal.

Fourteen minutes had elapsed. The erratic thoroughbred had turned his teammates from dark horses to World Cup contenders in just a quarter of an hour.

PACE AND POWER

Argentina's occasionally creaking defence will certainly fear him. Even if they match his pace, his power is an altogether different proposition.

He treats defenders like bowling pins.

Wilmots is now left with a slight tactical conundrum. Divock Origi didn't score but acquitted himself well against the Americans.

Lukaku did score, but utilised his physical superiority against exhausted defenders wilting in the Salvador heat.

Wilmots' answer lies with Argentina.

Origi offered a competent attacking outlet this morning, but Lukaku might keep the South Americans up at night.

If he balances the chip on his shoulder with the ball at his feet, he makes for a terrifying quarter-final opponent.

Wilmots has his striker feeding off the rage that dwells within.

Lukaku is angry. And Argentina really won't like him if he's angry.


This article was first published on July 3, 2014.
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