Didier Drogba luanched a staunch defence of Romelu Lukaku after the Belgium international missed a string of chances that cost his side a place in the last 16 of the World Cup.
The Red Devils much vaunted Golden Generation has endured a miserable tournament that culminated in Thursday’s goalless draw against Croatia which saw Roberto Martinez’s side slump to an early elimination. Lukaku, whose career is in limbo after he was loaned back to Inter from Chelsea in the summer following a nightmare year at Stamford Bridge, was summoned from the substitutes bench at the start of the second period.
The 29-year-old has made just two appearances since August for his club due to injury and showed understandable signs of rustiness in front of goal, missing a glut of chances that he would ordinarily have expected to bury. Lukaku left the pitch in floods of tears at the end of 90 minutes and was consoled by assistant coach Thierry Henry, before breaking a glass panel in the dugout with his fist as he lashed out in frustration.
Drogba, one of Lukaku’s idols during his first spell in west London, felt sympathy for his former teammate and refused to single out the striker for criticism. He told the BBC:
‘We all did (felt sorry for Lukaku) but we cannot put the blame on someone who has been injured the last two months, he comes on for 30 minutes and you want him to win the game. ‘As a striker he should have been a bit more on his toes but it’s very difficult to blame him for this.’
Lukaku’s first miss was, arguably, his worst when he struck the inside of the post from just seven yards with the goalkeeper way out of position, but again Drogba sympathised. He said:
‘I think it’s difficult. The defender is in front of you and the goalkeeper, this is his right foot, the way his body is pointing towards goal it’s difficult to turn twist and score. It’s difficult.’
Lukaku will undoubtedly be painted as a scapegoat in some quarters but Drogba believes it would be unfair for him to shoulder the burden and pointed to the disharmony in the squad as the main reason for Belgium’s downfall. He added:
‘You need a few more games to find the rhythm. I think a player like Inzaghi would score, he would always be on his toes. ‘I think he’s frustrated not only because he missed the goals but the spirit of this team during the tournament.
‘The talks, they are between players this is what he’s frustrated about more than the goals he missed I think.’