Belgium finally get Croatia showdown
Belgium’s all-time leading scorer Romelu Lukaku is pushing to start in Thursday’s crucial World Cup 2022 Group F battle with Croatia.
The 29-year-old striker, who has played only twice for Inter Milan since the end of August due to hamstring and thigh injuries, came off the bench to make his first appearance in Qatar in the 2-0 defeat against Morocco on Sunday.
Manager Roberto Martinez has revealed that Lukaku – who has scored three goals in his last two meetings with Croatia – is ahead of schedule in his recovery, and the striker will be in contention to start if he makes it through their final two training sessions.
Michy Batshuayi still seems to be the most likely candidate to get the nod up front for Belgium, having led the line in the previous two games, but the Fenerbahce man would be expected to lose his place in the first XI if Lukaku is deemed fit to start.
Star attackers Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are yet to shine on the World Cup stage in Qatar, but both players are set to retain their places in the final third, although Leandro Trossard, Charles De Ketelaere and Dries Mertens are among the alternatives should Martinez decide to freshen up his frontline.
Elsewhere, Everton midfielder Amadou Onana will miss Thursday’s game due to suspension after picking up a yellow card in both of the first two group fixtures, with Youri Tielemans poised to join Axel Witsel in the middle of the pitch.
Thibaut Courtois is in line to make his 100th international appearance between the sticks, while one of Timothy Castagne, Leander Dendoncker, Wout Faes or Arthur Theate is expected to start in the back three alongside experienced defensive duo Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
Thomas Meunier should retain his spot at right wing-back, while Yannick Carrasco will be hoping to force his way back into the first XI on the opposite flank ahead of Thorgan Hazard.
Meanwhile, Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic is expected to name an unchanged starting lineup. After drawing 0-0 with Morocco in their opening fixture, Dalic made just one change to his first XI for the 4-1 victory over Canada on Sunday, with Marko Livaja replacing Nikola Vlasic.
Livaja took his chance in the starting lineup as he scored Croatia’s second goal just before half time, and the 29-year-old Hajduk Split striker will be hoping to keep his place up front.
Andrej Kramaric, who switched from a central striking role to the right side of the front three following Livaja’s inclusion, benefitted from the change of position as he scored a brace against Canada; the Hoffenheim forward is set to continue on the right side on Thursday, while Ivan Perisic operates on the opposite flank.
2018 World Cup Golden Ball winner Luka Modric – who is one booking away from a suspension – will continue to dictate play in centre-midfield alongside Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic, with the latter set to earn his 80th international cap.
A back four of Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol and Borna Sosa is set to remain intact, although Dalic may consider switching his full-backs, with Josip Stanisic and Borna Barisic pushing to start ahead of Juranovic and Sosa respectively.
The likes of Lovro Majer, Mario Pasalic, Mislav Orsic and Bruno Petkovic have all been used sparingly so far in Qatar and they will all be hoping to get more minutes under their belts off the bench on Thursday.