Belgium's Romelu Lukaku. Alamy Stock Photo
euro 2024

VAR makes a martyr out of Romelu Lukaku but Belgium show signs of life

Goals from Youri Tielemans and Kevin De Bruyne earn 2-0 win over Romania, as striker has third goal ruled out.

Belgium 2

Romania 0

VAR HAS MADE a martyr out of Romelu Lukaku.

Poor, unfortunate, perpetually offside Romelu Lukaku. At least in these European Championships.

He is Belgium’s record scorer, after all, and 85 goals in 117 caps make it hard to feel too sorry for him.

And yet.

You’d need a heart of stone or the compassion capabilities of the semi-automated offside system that’s in place for there not to be a flicker of sorrow as yet another marginal call – correctly – went against him.

Lukaku was away celebrating in the corner after scoring what he and the half a dozen or so teammates who raced to join him felt was a legitimate goal.

Amadou Onana had won a brilliant tackle in the middle of the park. Youri Tielemans picked up the loose ball and played a quick pass to Kevin De Bruyne to maintain the momentum. His sensationally incisive 30-yard pass along the ground split Romania’s defence in two and gave Lukaku a run on goal.

His finish was precise.

It was sharp, it was brilliant, it was ruthless.

But it was offside.

By about the length of Lukaku’s kneecap.

It was the third goal he has had disallowed in two games – two for offside and one for the slightest of handballs given against a teammate after the new microchip technology came into play in the shock opening Group E defeat to Slovakia.

At least on this occasion the decision didn’t cost Belgium points.

They were comfortable 2-0 winners with Lukaku even turning provider for Tielemans after just 73 seconds before De Bruyne made sure of the victory with a lung-bursting run into the box from a long ball and clinical finish with 10 minutes left.

Lukaku, of course, kept going and was denied with a shot across goal in the last minute of normal time.

Even after yet more VAR heartache the striker persisted; showing to feet, winning flick ons, running into space and doing everything but staying onside when it mattered.

He would be top scorer at these Euros if the finest of margins had been in his favour.

Germany’s Jamal Musiala, Slovakia’s Ivan Schranz and Georges Mikautadze of Georgia lead the charts on two goals apiece.

Lukaku, surely, will eventually find the net if Belgium put on a repeat performance against Ukraine on Wednesday.

It’s a game they must win to guarantee progress and they may yet qualify as group winners having gone into this clash bottom.

Domenico Tedesco’s side needed a response and they delivered.

Belgium started in a manner that made it clear their players were not willing to depart with a whimper.

They weren’t feeling sorry for themselves after the Slovakia defeat – with the added frustration of those two disallowed goals following VAR checks – and after 73 seconds they were ahead.

Tielemans was the scorer as well as the instigator with a sliding tackle 30 yards away that regained possession and caught Romania on the hop.

It was a clear indication of the intensity Belgium wanted to bring.

They had started brightly against Slovakia, too, but Lukaku and De Bruyne both fluffed their lines inside the penalty area.

This breakthrough came just outside but the same pair were key to it.

It was De Bruyne who took the ball after Tielemans’ tackle. He fed Doku on the left and the captain’s overlap run created the yard of space for his Manchester City teammate to cut inside.

He found a gap to squeeze a pass into Lukaku.

The striker’s touch was tight and the second teed up the onrushing Aston Villa midfielder, whose finish was quality through a sea of defenders.

It felt like the floodgates may open, Lukaku scuffing a deflected shot wide on 13 minutes but Romania stayed in the game heading into the break.

Lukaka thought he put the game to bed on 63 minutes only for VAR to intervene, and five minutes later Belgium should have been punished when Dennis Mann had a clear run on goal only for his tame finish to be well saved by Koen Casteels who was outstretched to his left.

De Bruyne eventually threw a comfort blanket over what was turning into a nervy night with the second goal.

Lukaku’s toes would still have been sticking out at the end of it.

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