Belgium are out of the 2022 World Cup. They missed countless chances in the second half of their 0-0 draw with Croatia, having gone into the game needing a win to secure qualification. Substitute Romelu Lukaku missed four glaring opportunities to put The Red Devils in front. But ultimately his misfiring form, as well as a tame first half display, cost them here.
Croatia nearly booked Belgium’s flight home in the opening seconds. Almost straight from kick off, Luka Modric picked out Ivan Perisic with a wondrous outside-the-boot ball. The Tottenham Hotspur man sliced a fine shot just wide from distance. At the other end, Yannick Carrasco had his own strike blocked by Marcelo Brozovic.
The best chance of the half would arrive for the Red Devils. Kevin De Bruyne hit a frankly ridiculous through-ball for Dries Mertens. The veteran somehow bent this gilt-edged opportunity around the post when it was almost easier to score. A glaring chance went begging.
The most noteworthy moment of the half came when Croatia were initially awarded a penalty. A Modric free kick saw Carrasco lunge carelessly on Kramaric. As Modric lined up his spot kick, the referee was summoned for the dreaded VAR check. After lengthy discussions with his truck-bound colleagues, the penalty decision was reversed by virtue of an apparent offside when the free kick was taken. Countless viewings of the replay could not change this writer’s view that no infringement had taken place.
Knowing they’d need at least one goal to progress, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez introduced Romelu Lukaku at half time. He would have liked to call upon the Inter Milan striker sooner, but his injury problems have necessitated an easing in period at this tournament.
Despite this attacking switch, Croatia had the first chance of the half. Mateo Kovacic had a drive well saved by Thibaut Courtois. The stopper was playing his 100th game for his country and marked the occasion well here.
Carrasco embarked on a brilliant solo run that ended with his shot blocked into the path of Lukaku. The goal opened up in front of the on-loan Chelsea man, but somehow his strike hit the post. Would a sharper Lukaku have buried the chance? Quite possibly. But once again Belgium remained level in a game of fine margins.
Lukaku’s head was in his hands again just moments later. De Bruyne’s cross was deflected towards him, once again with the goal unattended. This time, Lukaku sent his header over the bar. The sorts of chances he usually gobbles up were being left on the table.
Belgium’s last roll of the dice was the introduction of Eden Hazard. His recent troubles have continued into this World Cup, with his old form failing to ignite. Lukaku’s form was showing no sign of recapturing his best either, as he allowed yet another two sitters to pass him by. The best was the second, when a Thorgan Hazard cross once again offered him a near-open goal. Lukaku could only get his thigh on the chance, and it was cleared.
The shine has finally come off Belgium’s golden generation. For most, this will be their last shot at World Cup glory. The timeless brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne might get another outing, but largely this team will need to be rebuilt. In previous tournaments, they have come close to glory. But at the 2022 World Cup, they never looked like a side that has spent much of the last few years on top of the FIFA world rankings.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change