WORLD CUP: Belgium knocked out after goalless draw with Croatia
Belgium have been knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage as Croatia progressed at their expense with a goalless draw in Qatar.
Roberto Martinez’s side, who finished third in Russia four years ago and are ranked second in the world, have had a disappointing tournament with just one win in three matches.
They produced another lacklustre display against Croatia, despite knowing a win was necessary to progress to the last 16.
Substitute Romelu Lukaku had numerous chances in the second half but failed to convert any of them.
Lukaku, still searching for sharpness following injury, poked an effort wide and then reacted too late when the ball hit him in front of goal in stoppage time.
Croatia, finalists in 2018, got the point they needed to progress from Group F as runners-up, with Morocco taking top spot thanks to a 2-1 win against Canada.
Zlatko Dalic’s side will face the winners of Group E – which is currently Spain – in the last 16.
Belgium players fell to the floor at full-time as their supporters behind the far goal politely applauded them off the pitch.
Lukaku, who replaced Dries Mertens at half-time, came into the game with intent and immediately brought additional energy to the Belgium side.
But his missed opportunities in the second half proved costly, with each one bringing an audible collective groan from the stands and Inter Milan striker the punched the dugout in frustration after the final whistle.
Croatia were unconvincing – they had a penalty ruled out by VAR due to an offside in the build-up in the first half – but did enough to secure progression.
However, they looked a level below what they showed to reach the final in Russia four years ago and their celebrations were fairly subdued after scraping through.
‘Golden generation’ falls at first hurdle
This Belgium side were ranked number one in the world in February and their collection of star names have been fancied to do well in recent tournaments – but their supporters are used to disappointment.
On the biggest stages, their ‘golden generation’ has not lived up to expectations, failing to reach a major final despite their array of talented players.
The team, whose key players are approaching the latter stages of their careers, probed for the breakthrough at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, but superstars Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard could do little to change the result.
Croatia had the best chances in a poor first half as Ivan Perisic struck wide while Andrej Kramaric thought he had won a penalty following a foul by Yannick Carrasco, but it was later ruled out by VAR.
Lukaku’s introduction had an immediate impact after the break when he pounced on a rebound from Carrasco’s shot but struck it against the inside of the post.
Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric went close when his poked effort was held by club team-mate Thibaut Courtois in a rare Croatia second-half attack.
But the biggest chances fell Lukaku’s way, not least in the closing minutes when he deflected a cross wide then was slow to react and allowed the ball to hit his body and fall into the goalkeeper’s arms from about two yards out.
A draw was probably a fair result and Belgium cannot have too many complaints at their failure to progress after a disappointing group stage. (BBC Sport)