MOSCOW (Reuters) - It may have needed a half-time rocket from captain Eden Hazard to jolt Romelu Lukaku into action in Belgium’s World Cup opener but coach Roberto Martinez believes the striker has the hunger to fulfil his ambition of global domination.
The Chelsea playmaker gave Lukaku a piece of his mind in Sochi on Monday after Belgium had huffed and puffed but failed to blow Panama’s modest defensive fortress down before the interval.
“At half-time, I told him we needed him. He’d been hiding out a bit up front,” Hazard told reporters.
“It’s not easy playing with a man missing. But once he got in there, involved in the game, like magic, he scored two.
“I hope he understands that now,” Hazard added after Belgium opened their Group G campaign with a 3-0 win.
That public dressing down fuelled talk of discord in the camp outside Moscow, where Martinez gave his players Wednesday off following their exertions on the humid Black Sea coast before they face Tunisia on Sunday and England next Thursday.
Images of defender Jan Vertonghen screaming at a lack of cover from Yannick Carrasco before the winger was withdrawn, have also sounded alarm bells about a return of the infighting that has dogged the Red Devils at previous big tournaments.
Martinez played down rumours of disharmony and said he had faith in Lukaku delivering not just on his promise of becoming the best striker in the world but also for a team anxious to go further than Belgium’s previous best of semi-finalists in 1986.
“My team can share views,” the Spaniard told reporters on Tuesday. “Any sort of negative word between the players... is not a type of attitude that we have.
“Of course, we want to demand from each other, and that’s natural, what happens in a dressing room.”
Vertonghen, the side’s most capped player, also denied talk of a rift, calling it the best Belgian team he has known: “We’re a complete team,” the Tottenham Hotspur defender said. “There’s always going to be stress, but I think we coped well.”
Lukaku could get better yet, Martinez said: “The drive is what interests me in a young player, why does he play football? And Romelu Lukaku plays football to be the best in his position.
“He can be as good as he wants to be.”
Lukaku himself, in an interview with The Players’ Tribune magazine, spoke of the childhood poverty and smears against his Congolese heritage as motivation for his ambition.
“I wanted to be the best footballer in Belgian history,” he said. “Not good. Not great. The best.
“I played with so much anger, because of a lot of things... because of the rats running around in our apartment... because of how the other parents used to look at me.
“I was on a mission.”
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by John O'Brien