By Karolos Grohmann
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil, June 15 (Reuters) - Belgium's Romelu Lukaku is carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders in his first World Cup in the absence of injured Christian Benteke, but the forward is relishing the pressure that comes with the tournament.
"I love pressure, I embrace it," the 21-year-old told reporters on Sunday ahead of their World Cup Group H game against Algeria on Tuesday.
Belgium are the dark horses of the tournament with a squad of young, talented players eager to leave their mark in a competition where their country has been absent for 12 years.
"If you are scared of pressure then you cannot play well," said Lukaku, who returned to training only this week following an ankle injury in their friendly against Tunisia last weekend.
The tension in the Belgium camp has been rising in training this week, with crunching tackles that saw two players injured.
"I like it," said Lukaku of the incidents. "You need this. It shows that we want to win. Our training sessions are all like competitive matches."
Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea to Everton last season, is one of several Belgians in the squad plying their trade for top European clubs, raising expectations among their fans.
Yet apart from defender Daniel van Buyten, no player has competed at a World Cup. For Lukaku that is not a problem.
"We have a lot of quality in the team and year after year we have been getting stronger and stronger," the soft-spoken striker said. "A lot of us are now playing for top European clubs so there is no problem."
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, who has featured in the Belgium squad at four World Cups, has enough experience to go around, and he is sharing it with his players, Lukaku said.
"He has been doing this from the first day we started," he said. (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Mike Collett-White)