Coach Roberto Martinez has hailed the rare talent of striker Romelu Lukaku, who will earn his 100th cap for Belgium in their World Cup qualifier at home to Czech Republic on Sunday, where a win could see them put one foot in the 2022 finals in Qatar.
Martinez has a long history with 28-year-old Lukaku that started when he signed the young striker for Everton in 2013, and hopes the current Chelsea forward will celebrate his milestone by adding to his 66 international goals.
“He is a legend of Belgian football, his statistics are fantastic,” Martinez told reporters on Saturday. “When I talk about Romelu, it’s always a bit subjective. I’ve been lucky enough to see him grow as a player and he’s developed superbly.
“Tomorrow he will play his 100th international match and I think that should be a big party. Sometimes we take for granted what we have. But players like Romelu are rare and they should be enjoyed.”
Martinez is likely to be without midfielder Youri Tielemans and right back Thomas Meunier following Thursday’s 5-2 win in Estonia, but believes playmaker Eden Hazard is on the way back to his best form after a long injury nightmare.
“He is clearly feeling better now than during the European Championship. Eden played pain free against Estonia and that is very important for him,” he said.
“That can be the starting point to enjoy football again and find yourself completely. He has had two difficult years and is experiencing this for the first time in his career.
“His next steps are pretty basic. His advantage is his enormous talent and I am sure he will be able to show how good he is.”
Martinez said he will select his strongest line-up against the Czechs, where a win will open a six-point lead at the top midway through their Group E campaign. They then have another qualifying fixture away to Belarus on Wednesday.
“We play at home, finally again with the fans (in the stadium). We must use that advantage. This is an important match towards the World Cup. We will have to be at our best and can’t afford to rotate (the starting XI),” added Martinez.
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