Euro 2020 Special

International Friendly: Lukaku Sees Belgium Past Outclassed Croatia

Belgium 1-0 Croatia

Belgium will head into Euro 2020 on the back of a 1-0 win over Croatia in their final international friendly warm-up match. Romelu Lukaku scored the only goal of the match as he continues to add to his remarkable scoring record for his country.

Even without key playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, the international friendly 2021 betting odds had the Red Devils as big favourites at home, and they delivered against the World Cup 2018 finalists.

Belgium were a class above the Croatians, who looked sorely lacking in an attacking talent like Lukaku. That is not a promising sign as they prepare to start their Euro 2020 campaign against tournament co-favourites England.

Highlights of the game

With Euro 2020 set to kick off in just a few days, both managers selected strong starting XIs for this friendly match.

De Bruyne is set to join the Belgium squad but was unavailable for this friendly, so Roberto Martinez tasked Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco to support Lukaku in attack. Meanwhile, Luka Modric was accompanied by Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic of Champions League winners Chelsea in Croatia’s midfield.

The visitors made a bright start to the match and had much of the ball early on, but they were unable to create any clear-cut chance against Thibaut Courtois.

The Belgians began slowly themselves as their first chance of the match came on 11 minutes with Nacer Chadli’s wayward shot. The hosts began to threaten more as the game wore on, though, and they really should have taken the lead on the half-hour mark with not one but two glorious opportunities.

Despite being surrounded by several Croatian defenders, Lukaku was somehow able to unleash a spectacular shot from the edge of the box that – unfortunately for him – struck the post. Carrasco was quick to react on the rebound, but his header struck the crossbar.

The match really started to open up after that. Lukaku’s Inter teammate Ivan Perisic almost caught the Belgians out cold on the break, but his shot was expertly blocked by Toby Alderweireld. And Lukaku had another shot that was handled well by Dominik Livakovic.

But the Belgians would finally get the breakthrough seven minutes from the break. After the Croatians failed to clear a corner, Lukaku showed off his sublime agility and goal poacher’s instincts with an acrobatic finish on the turn.

The hosts should have doubled their lead seven minutes into the second half. Carrasco expertly controlled a ball in the box and shifted it to his favoured left foot, only to blast his shot well over the bar.

Lukaku also came close to doubling his tally with a couple of headers, one of which was blocked and another one late on was well-saved.

Eden Hazard plays for Belgium's International Friendly against Croatia
Belgium star Eden Hazard comes in as a substitute during their International Friendly against Croatia

A host of substitutions came in for both teams after the hour mark. Among those subs were Belgium captain Eden Hazard, who made his first appearance for the national team since November 2019.

Croatia had one last chance to snatch a draw in stoppage time through substitute Josip Brekalo, but Courtois came up big to deny the dramatic equaliser and preserve Belgium’s narrow victory.

Key statistics

To Croatia’s credit, they certainly tried to compete with the No. 1 team in the world as they claimed 50 per cent of possession. However, the Belgians used their possession to create more shots (15-8) and very few of the Croatians’ shots were all that threatening.

Croatia clearly lack a top-class striker like Lukaku, who created most of the international friendly 2021 highlights in this match.

Lukaku also reached another milestone as he notched his 60th career international goal for his country in only his 93rd cap. He is far and away Belgium’s all-time leading scorer, with Eden Hazard (32 goals in 107 caps) the next closest player.

Only two of Lukaku’s 60 goals thus far have been in the Euros, but in the form he is in at the moment, he looks ready to lead Belgium and add a few more goals to that tally in this year’s tournament.

What’s next?

With the warm-up friendlies now done and dusted, it’s now off to Euro 2020 for Belgium and Croatia. The Belgians begin their campaign against Group B hosts Russia in St Petersburg on June 16.

As for Croatia, they will also kick off the Euros on June 16 as they take on tournament co-favourites England at Wembley. The two countries have had a history in recent years, so don’t forget to check out SBOTOP’s preview of that big Group D clash.

The Croatians will be hoping England are a bit rusty after many of their top stars did not feature in either of their warm-up friendlies.