Football

Roberto Martinez hands Belgium forward World Cup ultimatum

Belgium

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has handed Romelu Lukaku an ultimatum ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

The manager says the striker must be fit enough to play in at least one of the three group matches.

Belgium begin their World Cup campaign against Canada on November 23. The Red Devils then play Morocco and Croatia on November 27 and December 1 respectively.

Lukaku has suffered from various injuries since temporarily returning to Inter Milan from Chelsea in the summer. Such injuries include ankle and hamstring problems. He has made just four Serie A appearances this season.

The striker has also made one Champions League appearance, but featured for just seven minutes against Viktoria Plzen.

Belgium manager in selection dilemma

Belgium manager Martinez is expected to name his final 26-man World Cup squad on Thursday. But Lukaku must prove his fitness ahead of the announcement if he is to make his way onto the list.

“The decision will be made just before we announce the list,” said Martinez, as reported by ESPN.

“It will relate to the three first-round matches. If he is fit to participate in one of those, he is a player we want in our team.

“If he cannot, he will not be selected.”

Belgium doctors assessing Lukaku daily

Lukaku is currently undergoing daily tests with doctors of the Belgium team. Martinez says the striker is improving, but the boss will use all the time available to make his decision.

FIFA rules state all countries must name their final World Cup squads by November 13.

“We are seeing signs of improvement, but we will wait until just before the announcement to give us more time,” Martinez added.

“We have to assess the improvement to help estimate the timeline for his recovery. If he’s fit by December 1, he’ll be with us.”

Belgium

Lukaku a key player for Red Devils

If Lukaku does miss out, he will undoubtedly be missed by his country. He is Belgium’s all-time top goalscorer with 68 goals.

Ex-Chelsea winger Eden Hazard is his nearest competitor with 33. Two more former Chelsea players in Michy Batshuayi (26) and Kevin De Bruyne (25) are also in the top 10.

Lukaku was central to Belgium’s World Cup qualifying campaign. No player netted more in UEFA Group E qualifying than the Inter forward, who scored five times.

Belgium went unbeaten on their way to the top of the group, with six wins and two draws. Wales were their nearest rivals with 15 points.

They also scored the most goals among countries participating in groups with five teams. Martinez’s side scored 25 goals, ahead of the likes of France, Spain and Italy.

Lukaku’s club career has, however, suffered amid his injuries. Transfer decisions have also disrupted his momentum, with the striker scoring just eight goals from his 26 Premier League games last season.

The return to Stamford Bridge did not go to plan, with Lukaku now back at the club where he enjoyed much success over the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons.

The Belgium forward scored 34 goals in all competitions in that first season, which he followed up with 30 goals in the next season.