Mateo Kovacic defends Romelu Lukaku & discusses Chelsea target Josko Gvardiol

Mateo Kovacic will face Romelu Lukaku at the World Cup on Thursday
Mateo Kovacic will face Romelu Lukaku at the World Cup on Thursday / Fantasista/GettyImages

Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic has defended Romelu Lukaku ahead of facing his former clubmate as Croatia take on Belgium in the final set of Group F fixtures at the World Cup.

Lukaku spent just a few months back at Chelsea last season following a £97.5m transfer before expressing his desire to return to Inter. The Belgian returned to San Siro on loan in June, only for injury to majorly disrupt his start to the 2022/23 campaign.

Those fitness concerns mean the 29-year-old missed Belgium’s first World Cup game and was limited to a few minutes off the bench in their second.

Belgium need a result against Croatia or will face group stage elimination following defeat to Morocco last time out, but Kovacic is taking nothing for granted.

“We played together with Romelu at Chelsea, he's a top player and he's been proving it for years. He's scored a lot of goals,” the Croatia star said.

“We will have to focus on ourselves, show our best face.”

Kovacic was also asked about Croatia teammate Josko Gvardiol, who plays his club football for RB Leipzig but was the subject of a £77m Chelsea bid during the summer.

“He's phenomenal, he's 20 and he's already fantastic. But I have no comments to make about links with Chelsea,” Kovacic replied.

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Gvardiol commented in September that he remains happy at Leipzig for the time being, yet also left the door open for a transfer as soon as January.

“I have people who deal with it, I didn’t think about a transfer. We’ll see what happens in the winter,” the young defender said.