Moscow (AFP) – Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku scored his second World Cup double in as many matches on Saturday to draw level with Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Golden Boot.
Lukaku was under pressure coming into the tournament to prove himself on football’s biggest stage after a disappointing campaign in Brazil in 2014 and squandering vital chances in Belgium’s exit from Euro 2016.
The Manchester United forward has answered his critics in spectacular fashion in Russia, scoring twice in Belgium’s opening match against Panama then two as they thumped Tunisia 5-2 in Moscow.
He is the first player from any nation to score two goals in consecutive matches at the World Cup since Argentine great Diego Maradona in 1986, a tournament the South Americans went on to win.
The powerful striker is Belgium’s record scorer with 40 goals in 71 appearances but is aware he has his doubters, who accuse him of going missing in big matches.
Even his skipper Eden Hazard — who scored two goals of his own against Tunisia — remarked that Lukaku appeared to be “hiding” up front during the first half of the opening match against Panama, although he later played down the comment.
Hazard was full of prise for the 25-year-old after his display against Tunisia.
“He’s working hard and scoring a lot of goals,” he said. “When we pass the ball to Romelu in front of the goal he’ll never miss at the moment. He’s in good form and I hope he’ll score more goals.”
In the lead-up to the match, Lukaku had spoken of the pressure he felt in 2014 and said he planned to adopt a more carefree attitude in Russia.
“I’m going to remember to have fun this time,” he said. “Life is too short for the stress and the drama. People can say whatever they want about our team and about me.”
His positive approach was evident from the start at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium, when he panicked the Tunisian goalkeeper with a threatening run in the opening minutes.
He was heavily involved as the game began at a frantic pace, pleading for the ball, working one-twos with Thomas Meunier and even tracking back to defend a corner late in the first half.
His hard work was rewarded with two first-half goals, the first calmly taken after Dries Mertens dispossessed a defender then put him through in the box.
The second came when Kevin De Bruyne crossed to Meunier, who flicked on for Lukaku to deliver a clinical finish.
He is a doubt for Thursday’s final Group G match in Kaliningrad against England after a knock to the foot forced him off in the second half.
But the injury is not serious enough to end Lukaku’s involvement in a tournament in which he appears to be finally delivering on his enormous potential.