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Croatia 0-0 Belgium: Romelu Lukaku spurns second-half chances as Red Devils crash out of 2022 World Cup


Croatia confirmed their place in the round-of-16 of the World Cup thanks to a nervy 0-0 draw against Belgium. Neither side displayed enough cutting edge to earn a win, but the 2018 runners-up got the point they required to reach the knock-out stages for a third time in six attempts.

Zlatko Dalić’s side nearly opened the scoring within ten seconds as Ivan Perisic blasted wide, while Dries Mertens, restored to the Red Devils’ starting line-up, should have done better when scooping over the bar after receiving Kevin De Bruyne’s pinpoint pass.

Andrej Kramaric was then awarded a penalty after being brought down in the box by Yannick Carrasco, but the spot-kick was controversially chalked off following a VAR check for offside in the build-up.

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Knowing his side needed a win to go through, Roberto Martinez threw on Romelu Lukaku at the break, and he finally had the game’s first shot on target moments after coming on, although his tame header was saved.

Proceedings were beginning to liven up though, and Thibaut Courtois was on hand to make a trio of fine saves from Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric. At the other end, Lukaku rattled the woodwork, before somehow heading over an empty net after goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic had come for a cross and got nowhere near it.

In the end, the deadlock would not be broken, with Lukaku putting a further chance the wrong side of the post with minutes left as his side suffered the indignity of an early exit.

TALKING POINT – Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ heading home

Remember when England’s side of the 2000s were labelled a ‘golden generation’ and they ultimately achieved nothing? Well perhaps we should stop dishing that tag out, because now Belgium’s own revered side have fallen flat on their face.

Roberto Martinez’s side, who finished third in Russia in 2018, offered nothing going forward until they brought on Romelu Lukaku at the break, as he at least provided a focal point in attack.

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However, the Inter Milan striker wasted two glorious chances, and that sums up the Red Devils’ World Cup, as Kevin De Bruyne, Youri Tielemans, Eden Hazard and co. head home having scored just once, in a limp 1-0 victory over Canada.

PLAYER OF THE MATCH

Josko Gvardiol (Croatia). In a match when defenders dominated attackers, Gvardiol stood above the rest as his side kept yet another clean sheet.

The 20-year old, who plies his trade for RB Leipzig, will have suitors from across Europe after this stunning display, which included a sublime tackle on Lukaku late on, lunging in to clip the ball away as the striker was preparing to tap into an empty net.

The defender also kept the likes of De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco broadly quiet to help his side into the last 16.

Leandro Trossard of Belgium is challenged by Josko Gvardiol of Croatia during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group F match between Croatia and Belgium at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on December 01, 2022 in Doha, Qatar

Image credit: Getty Images

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PLAYER RATINGS

CROATIA: Livakovic 6; Juranovic 6, Lovren 6, Gvardiol 8, Sosa 5; Brozovic 7, Modric 7, Kovacic 7; Kramaric 6, Livaja 6, Perisic 6. Subs: Pasalic 6, Petkovic 7

Subs: Grabic, Ivusic, Erlic, Sutalo, Barisic, Vida, Stanisic, Majer, Jakic, Vlasic, Sucic, Orsic, Budimir

BELGIUM: Courtois 7; Dendoncker 6, Vertonghen 6, Alderweireld 6; Meunier 5, De Bruyne 6, Witsel 6, Castagne 6; Trossard 5, Mertens 5, Carrasco 7. Subs: Lukaku 7, Thorgan Hazard 6, Tielemans 6, Doku 6

Subs: Mignolet, Casteels, Theate, Debast, Faes, De Ketelaere, Vanaken, Batshuayi, Openda

KEY MOMENTS

14’ MERTENS SCOOPS OVER. That’s a shocker of a finish, I’m afraid. Superb from Kevin De Bruyne, who carries the ball 60 yards before playing the perfect pass to the Napoli man, through one-on-one, only to lean back and lift his shot over the bar.

17’ PENALTY AWARDED…THEN NOT AWARDED! Carrasco brings down Kramaric in the box and referee Anthony Taylor immediately awards a penalty, but it’s rescinded after VAR find an offside in the build-up

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61’ LUKAKU HITS THE POST. Oh what a chance! Carrasco tiptoes his way into the box and sees the shot saved as the angle narrows. The ball bounces out to Lukaku, and he clatters the post from 10-yards

87’ LUKAKU MISSES AGAIN. Oh they won’t get many better chances. It’s hard, as he tries to direct Thomas Meunier’s shot on target, but instead the ball flies wide of the near post

90’ HOW MANY CHANCES DOES HE NEED? Good grief. Thorgan Hazard picks out Lukaku and the ball just hits him, basically two yards out, and the ‘keeper gets back to stop. Wow.

KEY STATS

  • Croatia have qualified for the knock-out stages of a World Cup for the second time – on the previous two occasions they have reached at least the semi-finals
  • This is the first time Belgium have failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of a World Cup since 1998 (with the caveat that they weren’t at the 2006 or 2010 tournaments)

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