Big-name casualty exits World Cup
Belgium, semifinalists four years ago in Russia, have suffered the ignominy of elimination from the FIFA World Cup at the group stage following a 0-0 draw with Croatia in a result which signals the end of the country’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’.
Roberto Martinez’ men entered the game knowing that a win would secure their place in the last 16, but even as the Red Devils poured forward in the dying minutes in pursuit of the single goal which would prolong their World Cup campaign, their galaxy of big-name stars couldn’t produce in what was a defining moment for Belgian football.
Burly striker Romelu Lukaku was the chief villain, with the Chelsea man (who is back on loan at Inter Milan) missing several gilt-edged chances as the game ticked towards the 90-minute mark – with more than one of those opportunities coming from just a couple of yards out with the goal seemingly at his mercy.
Croatia, for their part, were mostly happy to sit back in a bid to contain the marauding Belgians, safe in the knowledge the circumstances in the other Group F fixture between Morocco and Canada looked to have thumbed the scales in their favor to the point that single point would likely be sufficient to progress.
But that’s not to say that it wasn’t heart-in-mouth stuff for fans watching back home in Zagreb.
Despite creating chance after chance, Belgium couldn’t break the deadlock and justify their lofty position as the second-best team in the world based on the FIFA rankings, and while the tournament will be poorer for not having the likes of Kevin De Bruyne competing in the knockout stages, following their surprise 2-0 defeat to Morocco it appears self-inflicted rather than a cruel quirk of fate.
And while neutrals will feel for Lukaku, who rushed off the field in tears after the final whistle and even punched the plastic which lines the pitchside dugout, he had several opportunities to be the hero. None were taken.
Elsewhere in the same group, Morocco confirmed themselves as surprise group winners with a 2-1 win over Canada.
Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech opened the scoring after just four minutes following an error from Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan. Youssef En-Nesyri doubled the North Africans’ advantage on 23 minutes before an own-goal from Nayef Aguerd (after good work down the left flank from Alphonso Davies) gave the Canadians a glimmer of hope.
It wasn’t to be, though, as Morocco completed one of the most famous days in their football history.
For Belgium, and particularly Lukaku, it will be a day best erased from their collective memories.