The Red Devils managed to finish third in the section, with four points to their name, just one behind second-placed Croatia and three adrift of group-winners Morocco.
Croatia and Belgium played out a goalless draw in their final Group F fixture of the Qatar World Cup on Thursday. The result helped the Red Checkers to enter the last-16 courtesy of finishing second in the group, while Belgium got eliminated from the tournament. The Red Devils managed to finish third in the section, with four points to their name, just one behind second-placed Croatia and three adrift of group-winners Morocco. Only the top two teams will advance to the last-16. The Atlas Lions defeated Canada 2-1 in the other match of the group to secure top spot and enter the knockout round of the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.
— HNS (@HNS_CFF) December 1, 2022
The Red Devils went into the tie knowing that only a win would ensure them a spot in the knockout round, while a draw would make things complicated depending on the result of the game between Morocco and Canada. Meanwhile, despite so much at stake, the first half was a cagey affair as both sides failed to register even a single shot on target. Although Belgium boss Roberto Martinez had made four changes to the side that started in the 2-0 defeat to Morocco on Sunday, the Red Devils lacked urgency and intent while going forward. Croatia, on the other hand, needed just a point to go through and they controlled the game pretty well in the first period.
Lukaku, who was returning from a hamstring injury, was short of game time and never looked sharp in front of goal. The Inter Milan striker was a half-time substitute and missed a couple of sitters. On the hour-mark, the 29-year-old smashed the inside of the post when the goal was gaping. A minute later, the former Chelsea-man missed a free header from Kevin de Bruyne’s cross. And then, in the stoppage time, Thorgan Hazard’s brilliant cross from the right channel found Lukaku at the far post, but to the surprise of everyone, the big man chested the ball down to the goalkeeper. After the final whistle, Belgium’s record goalscorer broke down in the arms of assistant coach Thierry Henry.
Croatia, who had reached the final four years ago in Russia, were lucky to sneak through to the knockouts this time around. Head coach Zlatko Dalic admitted that his side was fortunate that Belgium missed several chances at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium on Thursday. Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku hit the post and missed a string of chances. “I expected a difficult match against Belgium. Belgium cannot play three bad matches in a row,” Dalic said in the post-match press conference. “They had some chances against us but it didn’t change our mindset.. We were lucky they didn’t take their chances”. Croatia will face Japan in the Round of 16 at Al Janoub Stadium on December 5.
— HNS (@HNS_CFF) December 2, 2022