Belgium mission harder without Lukaku ahead of Canada clash

World Cup: Fan wears Union Flag in Iran

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For Belgium’s so-called ‘golden generation’, this World Cup represents their last chance to show they’ve got what it takes to win the competition. Roberto Martinez’s side lock horns with Canada this evening looking to take a step towards the knockout stages of the competition. Their mission, however, is certainly hardened by the absence of Romelu Lukaku…

For years, Belgium have been building something special.

They have some of the best players in world football, with Kevin De Bruyne, Lukaku and Eden Hazard some of the names who have enchanted the sport over the past decade.

But Belgium, for all their talent, have underachieved at major tournaments so far. A team often tipped for trophies have come up short, substantially so in most cases.

Many thought Euro 2016 could have been their year.

Hazard was in his prime then, De Bruyne was starting out and Lukaku had established himself as one of the deadliest strikers in the Premier League.

But Wales had other ideas and rocked the Red Devils with a 3-1 win in their quarter-final clash, with Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes all finding the net.

In fairness, Belgium did enjoy a positive World Cup in Russia two years later.

Yet they still came up short, with France eliminating them in the semi-finals with a 1-0 victory courtesy of Samuel Umtiti.

After all, they’re still one of the best teams in the world – even if they’re not operating at the same dizzying heights as before.

And whether they can get their campaign off to a positive start against Costa Rica this evening remains to be seen.

Belgium would go on to outplay England in the third-placed play-off match, cruising to a 2-0 win with Thomas Meunier and Hazard both finding the net.

But the Three Lions had mentally given up by that point and put out a weakened side as a result. Phil Jones played, which perhaps says everything.

Many expected Belgium, having gone so close to winning the World Cup, to take last summer’s European Championships by storm.

Yet it was to be another quarter-final exit for Martinez’s side, who lost 2-1 to Italy despite Lukaku finding the net.

The Inter Milan striker, who is spending the season at the San Siro on loan from Chelsea, will be vital if Belgium are to go all the way this winter.

But they’ve been dealt a blow with the forward set to miss tonight’s match with Canada through injury.

Martinez, speaking before his side’s game, has admitted there’s no timeline on his talisman returning to action.

Yet he did insist he was happy with the way Lukaku was getting on as he looks to regain fitness in time to make his mark on the grandest stage of all.

“We’re very happy the way that he is progressing,” he said.

“He had a very good session yesterday, not with a group, but is progressing in a steady way. We haven’t got a timeline.

“I wouldn’t be able to tell if he’s going to be the second game or the third game.

“If I follow the medical advice, at this point it would be the third game.

“If I follow how the player feels, probably we’ve got a chance for the second game.”

Canada boss John Herdman, meanwhile, has admitted he’ll be pinching himself when his team step out onto the field – and opened up on his footballing journey so far.

“I will pinch myself,” he said.

“I remember first flying into Vancouver thinking I was going to be at a training session with the greatest of all time in her craft, Christine Sinclair, and that I’d never worked with that type of athlete before and how was I going to do it?

“But I was listening to a podcast where Hugh Jackman spoke about imposter syndrome.

“I just thought if Wolverine can have it, I can too! I’m not ashamed to admit it and I’m sure I will feel that way when De Bruyne walks past.

“But if you’re willing to admit that stuff, you work harder to fill the gaps and innovate.”

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