Belgium hero Adnan Januzaj has said his winning goal in the 1-0 victory against England in Group G - his first international goal - announced his presence to those who had criticized him during his playing career in England.
A brilliant 51st-minute strike from Januzaj was enough to give Belgium the victory and claim top spot in Group G, to set up a clash with Japan in Rostov. England had to settle for second, and will play Colombia in Moscow as group runners-up.
Januzaj was a child prodigy at Manchester United and was once earmarked for an England place through naturalized citizenship, but on Thursday he proved the difference for Belgium in a vital win over The Three Lions.
“Yeah I’m very pleased with that, to score a great goal against a great opponent,” Januzaj said in the game’s post-match press conference. “But in the past in England I had a lot of criticism and now I wanted to show the people that I am here,so you know I am very happy with that.”
Born in Brussels, Belgium, into a Kosovan-Albanian family, Adnan Januzaj’s heritage is as complex as they come. Due to FIFA’s eligibility rulings, Januzaj could have played for Belgium, Albania and Kosovo, at the time an unrecognized FIFA member state.
In 2013, then-England manager Roy Hodgson announced his staff were monitoring the progress of Januzaj, should the player become a naturalized British citizen, but the player appearing for England would have breached FIFA rules. The player himself chose the country of his birth.
However, after his Manchester United career fizzled out and ended in a permanent move to Spain’s Real Sociedad, Januzaj’s international career seemed in jeopardy when he fell onto the fringes of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’. For the player, the move to Spain last year signalled a period of rebuilding.
“Really it’s been a lot of work and this year I’ve been playing in a team like Real Sociedad that makes me grow as a player and at my age, 23, I think it’s the most important thing is to play games to keep progressing.
“I think that was the most important thing at the right stage for me and now I’m doing this so I’m very pleased with that and hope to continue.”
His start in the Belgium side was one of nine changes brought about by manager Roberto Martinez, and his goal will now surely leave him in the reckoning for a place in The Red Devils’ starting lineup in the knockout stages, beginning in Rostov on July 2.