How Lukaku clinched victory without touching the ball

Four Belgian players touched the ball in their dramatic last-minute winner against Japan – but the biggest influence came from a striker who didn’t make contact at all.

The best and most important counterattack of the 2018 World Cup completed Belgium’s stunning comeback from 2-0 down to 3-2 up against Japan.

But the player who made the goal, and who won the game for Belgium, was the one who didn’t even touch the ball – that player was Romelu Lukaku.

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Romelu Lukaku dummies over the ball to set-up the winning goal. Pic: Getty

First, Lukaku made an out-to-in run to open up space on Belgium’s right wing for Thomas Meunier to explode into.

Lukaku made the run from a less congested area into a more congested area knowing his movement would make that wide right area even more free. He made the run not to get the ball, but to clear the path for Meunier.

Lukaku then continued his run into the box. With the Japanese defense scrambling, his original marker had to reverse course and go close down the ball. Makoto Hasebe, No. 17, had to recover to pick up Lukaku, leaving Nacer Chadli free at the far post.

Lukaku’s run drew the Japanese defender away from Nacer Chadli. Pic: Fox Sports Go

Knowing Chadli was free behind him, Lukaku attacked the ball, diverting the attention of both Hasebe and Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. But he dummied it, allowing Chadli to tap into a mostly empty net.

Brilliant. In all sorts of ways. It’s a textbook lesson in off-the-ball movement, and social media users have heaped praise on the prolific forward’s vision.

Lukaku, who had been criticised earlier in the game for failing to create or finish chances, made the two most important actions of the captivating end-to-end move. He drew defenders away from both the player who provided the assist, Meunier, and the player who scored the dramatic winner, Chadli.

Lukaku might not get the credit or the headlines those two will. He might not even get the plaudits Kevin De Bruyne will for leading the break. But he should. And he’ll deserve every bit of credit he receives.

With Yahoo US.