BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku believes he should be classified now as a world-class striker and says everything fell into place for him in the season just finished, as he looks ahead to meeting Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the European Championship on Sunday.
The comparison with the two has dominated the build-up to the last-16 clash between holders Portugal and top-ranked Belgium in Seville, in what could be the clash of the round.
Ronaldo is one goal away from setting a new record for most national team goals, while Lukaku is Belgium’s top scorer with 63 in 96 international appearances.
“At his age, he continues to shine and I’m going to try and get as close to his achievements as possible,” Lukaku said of his Portuguese rival, who he added was a major source of inspiration and motivation.
“Oh, I need competition. When someone says he’s better than me, I want to transcend him. Ronaldo wants to be the best at everything, (France striker Kylian) Mbappe also wants to win everything,” Lukaku told reporters.
“I’ve taken a big step. (Robert) Lewandowski, (Karim) Benzema and (Harry) Kane used to be talked about as world-class strikers. For me, those sort of comment was always limited to: ‘He is in shape’. Well, now I’m world class, too. That was my personal goal.
“It was important to start winning trophies, and the Serie A title with Inter gave me motivation and now I also want to win with the Red Devils. It would be the ultimate recognition for this team. If I play badly I will be really disappointed in myself and the team, because now is the right time to harvest.”
Belgium’s golden generation have been top of the FIFA rankings for almost three years but are without a major tournament triumph, losing in the semi-finals of Russia 2018 to France three years ago.
“We were not mature enough at the World Cup against France. We tried too hard to do well and were beaten. Now we know how to win in many different kinds of ways.”
In a separate Saturday interview on Belgian television, Lukaku said success at Euro 2020 would cap a dream season.
“Everything has finally fallen into place this season. I have worked very hard in recent years and worked under the right coach at the right time. I analysed myself a lot, and that really made a difference in playing better,” he added.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Hugh Lawson)