Belgium coach Marc Wilmots still believes in Romelu Lukaku
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots told Sporza his team's poor start against Algeria was down to nerves and insisted he still has full faith in Romelu Lukaku.
Belgium, widely tipped as dark horses for this year's World Cup, found themselves trailing to the Algerians in their opener before Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens came off the bench to deliver a 2-1 victory.
"It gives us confidence starting with a win," Wilmots said. "It is only normal that this young side was nervous at the start. We got more and more into the game after that. In the end, we created six or seven chances, while they had none. Their goalkeeper was their best man."
Lukaku -- who had been installed as Belgium's leading striker due to injury to Christian Benteke -- struggled to make an impact and was replaced by Divock Origi after 58 minutes.
Asked why he substituted the Chelsea striker, Wilmots said: "Romelu had run 6.5 kilometres in 55 minutes. He exhausted the Algerians. He didn't get any room and it was hard for him because there wasn't any pace to the game, but his hard work got the Algerians out of breath."
He insisted Lukaku's confidence should not be affected, especially given the widespread support for the striker after he scored a hat trick in a friendly win against Luxembourg last month and then another in the 2-0 victory over Sweden less than three weeks ago.
"After Luxemburg and Sweden, everybody said we had our top scorer," he said. "Just because he hasn't scored for a change doesn't mean Romelu has suddenly lost his confidence. Let's not blow this out of proportion. I have faith in him and so do his teammates. Romelu is a world-class striker. Maybe Origi will start a game at some point and Romelu comes on after 55 minutes. What's the problem? There is no problem."
Wilmots also praised Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli, who were also taken off during the victory, saying they "did well."
He added: "It's not like it was the first time those two played together -- they did so in Serbia and at home against Scotland, one of our best games in qualifying. But if there is no room to play in, they can't go deep."
Asked whether Thomas Vermaelen was disappointed at being left out, Wilmots added: "Algeria is in the past now. I felt it was a good game. I use the whole potential of my squad. I have talked to Thomas but that stays in the dressing room."
Wilmots, who was an unused substitute at the 1990 World Cup and created problems when given limited playing time at USA '94, said he would not reveal how he goes about motivating his substitutes.
"I'm not going to tell you everything," he said. "That's for us. Look, the players don't play for themselves. They play for Belgium. This is a real group, no one is going for individual glory. I made that mistake myself, and I don't want these boys to make it. You have to learn from your mistakes."
Belgium play Russia on Sunday and, while Fabio Capello's men put in a disappointing performance in their 1-1 draw with South Korea, Wilmots disagreed that his team would go into the match as favourites.
"I won't say so," he said. "I never have. Every game is difficult. Look at Spain. They were many people's favourites and look what happened against the Netherlands and Chile. One stupid mistake and you can be out. Only three more points get us forward and into the second round."
On how they would go about trying to secure the victory, he added: "The first thing is not to allow them any room. I hope they won't put a wall in front of us, but if they do, we must be patient. They usually play 4-3-3, very tight and they're technically strong. They try to take the game to you but, when they don't have the ball, they fall back and try to hit you on the break. I expect to see a different Russia than what we saw against South Korea."
Despite having an agreement that Vincent Kompany was not to be discussed, Sporza's reporter tried to ask Wilmots about the Belgium captain's reported injury.
"I'm ending this interview now," Wilmots said before walking out.
However, he did later address the Kompany issue.
"In the last five minutes [of the Algeria match] he felt something," he said on Friday. "He had hoped it would have gone after a night's sleep but that wasn't the case. So we have decided to give him two days' rest and let him work with [physiotherapist] Lieven Maesschalck and our medical staff. We expect he will be able to train tomorrow. But I won't take any risk. We are in a good position. This is not the time to do anything crazy."