U.S. Markets closed

Romelu Lukaku completed Belgium's World Cup comeback without even touching the ball

The best and most important counterattack of the 2018 World Cup featured just seven touches from four players. It went from one end of the field to the other in 10 seconds. It completed Belgium’s stunning comeback from 2-0 down to 3-2 up in a Round of 16 game 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.

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

(Original video: Fox Sports Go)

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:

(Screenshot: Fox Sports Go; Illustration: Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

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:

(Screenshot: Fox Sports Go; Illustration: Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

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.

(Original video: Fox Sports Go)

Brilliant. In all sorts of ways. It’s a textbook lesson in off-the-ball movement. And it should be the goal of the tournament.

Lukaku, who had been criticized 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.

Romelu Lukaku celebrates Belgium’s stunning World Cup Round of 16 comeback against Japan. (AP)

– – – – – – –

Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

More World Cup on Yahoo Sports:
Russia fined by FIFA after fans display neo-Nazi banner at World Cup
Why smaller nations are closing the gap on world’s top teams
Could World Cup of underdogs produce surprise final?
Spain made history and still managed to lose to Russia