Nfter the days of chaos in Doha, Belgium’s “golden generation” has to return home without a title. Kevin De Bruyne and Co. were unable to get beyond a 0-0 draw against second-placed Croatia on Thursday, meaning they were eliminated in the first round of the World Cup in Qatar. The last time that happened to the Belgians was in 1998 at the finals in France. For Croatia, however, the journey continues, the former world footballer Luka Modric can still dream of the very big crowning glory of his very successful career.
De Bruyne, meanwhile, is still without an international title, whether with a club or with the national team. Three times in the quarterfinals, plus the third place in Russia was the result of the last big tournaments – the best vintage, the Belgium ever produced remains unfinished.
“This generation deserves respect and admiration,” said Belgium national coach Roberto Martínez before the all-or-nothing game. In the days since arriving in the Gulf, however, the talented vintage had primarily produced plenty of negative headlines. A Alleged cabin Zoff, a mole affair up to the crisis summit had accompanied the weak sporting performances.
Perisic misses a lightning goal
Reason enough for Martínez to reconsider his starting XI. There was no room for the superstar and captain Eden Hazard, who had been out of shape for a long time, against Croatia, and his brother and Bundesliga professional Thorgan also slipped out of the starting line-up. Also for the ailing superstar Romelu Lukaku it wasn’t enough, the Inter Milan goalscorer sat on the bench and came into play in the second half.
First of all, not much was missing and Belgium would have conceded the fastest goal in World Cup history so far. After just nine seconds, former Bundesliga professional Ivan Perisic shot just wide of the goal from the left-hand position. He almost surpassed Turkey’s Hakan Sükür, who scored eleven seconds later in the match for third place against South Korea at the 2002 World Cup.
In any case, the Croatians got off to a better start and caused a lot of confusion in the defense of the “Rode Duivels”. The Belgians were lucky that the penalty kick was conceded again in the 15th minute by the German video referee Marco Fritz. The fouled Andrej Kramaric from Bundesliga club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim had previously been offside by the tiniest cross. So there was no spicy duel between Modric and Thibaut Courtois, both of whom are key players at Champions League winners Real Madrid. Courtois played his 100th cap on Thursday.
Lukaku also fails to hit the target
The Belgians then took the initiative. They had to, too, because possible marksmanship from the parallel game was done early on. But there weren’t many chances in the first round. Dries Mertens had the best chance after some fine work from De Bruyne, but the veteran put the ball over the goal (13′). Just before the break, Mertens caused another threat (42′).
It lacked penetrating power against the stable Croatian defense. High time for the Belgian record goalscorer Lukaku. And it was less than four minutes before Lukaku came into action for the first time after being substituted on. With the striker there was again a passing station in the headquarters, who could fix and distribute the balls. And only the post prevented the Belgian striker’s goal (60th).
The more the Belgians risked, the more vulnerable they became on the defensive. Courtois was there for shots from Mateo Kovacic (50′), Marcelo Brozovic (54′) and Modric (54′ and 68′). Lukaku missed the last big chances for Belgium shortly before the end (87th/90th). Also the late substitution of Eden Hazard could no longer prevent the bitter end of the Belgians.