Croatia 0-0 Belgium: Match report, player ratings, expert analysis, fan reaction and more

It was a night to forget for star striker Romelu Lukaku who missed a flurry of big chances that otherwise would have seen Belgium progress

The much-talked-about “Golden Generation” of Belgium has fallen short of the mark in what was its final chance at the 2022 World Cup after the De Rode Duivels managed just a 0-0 draw against Croatia at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on a night where many would have bet the house on a multi-goal performance from the world’s number two ranked nation according to FIFA.

The first half was an even affair on the datasheet, with both Croatia and Belgium creating a near-identical amount of chances (Croatia 5, Belgium 6) though Belgium did manage to dominate possession while seeing ~55% of the ball across the opening 45min.

Some of the best chances of the opening half fell toward Belgium as well, perhaps with the best of the lot falling at the feet of veteran forward Dries Mertens after he was put through into the box by Kevin De Bruyne before his effort was sent high and wide of Dominik Livaković's goal in a wasted chance to give the Red Devils a much-needed lead after Roberto Martinez’s men held Croatia to zero shots for nearly thirty minutes before the 2018 finalist finally worked themselves into proceedings more effectively.

VAR was once again right in the middle of the talking points, however, after Dejan Lovren was judged to be offside by the thinnest of margins and just ahead of Jan Vertonghen after making his run during a first-half set piece.

Things went into the half-time interval all square at nil-nil before Martinez called upon Belgium’s all-time leading scorer Romelu Lukaku to hopefully give the nation a shot in the arm when it mattered most, and almost immediately after being introduced was his presence already felt as Belgium looked far more confident with their leading man back up front.

But despite the change, Croatia had come out swinging after they emerged from the changing rooms, with Kockasti forcing Thibaut Courtois into a string of three or four saves as Zlatko Dalić's men smelled blood and pushed for a match opener that would see them return to the summit of Group F in the knowledge that Morocco was - at the time - leading Canada 2-1, a result that would see Croatia go through as runner-up.

The Red Devils so nearly bagged the opener in the 60th minute when De Bruyne found Carrasco in the area whose point-blank effort was first turned away only to fall to Lukaku, who blasted his effort off the bar in an otherwise open goal after Livaković was left sprawling to recover after his initial save. Lukaku then missed an open goal with his headed effort less than two minutes later after De Bruyne’s cross found the big center-forward free and clear after Livaković was unable to fist-away.

Belgium so nearly found a late potential match-winner on the stroke of added time through Lukaku once again only for the Inter Milan forward to somehow manage to not bungle his effort over the line from less than two yards out before Livaković could collect the loose ball. It was a horrendous performance in front of goal from Lukaku, who managed a 1.67xG while missing four big chances since being introduced at the half only to not find the back of the net in heartbreaking fashion as his failure to convert is the leading cause for Belgium crashing out of the group stage.

For Croatia, a date with the runner-up of Group E awaits, meaning potential clashes with Spain, Japan, Costa Rica, or Germany as the book has yet to be closed on the star-studded career of Luka Modrić.

Croatia Player Ratings

  • Dominik Livaković (GK): 7 - Shakey in some respects but overall he was solid in goal and did well to keep Belgium out across a few big moments.
  • Josip Juranović (RB): 6.5 - Not as good as his opposite on the other flank in Sosa but Juranović had an okay shift all things considered.
  • Dejan Lovren (CB): 6.5 - Nothing spectacular from the veteran center-back but he was serviceable. Likely to be his last tournament as a first-choice option.
  • Joško Gvardiol (CB): 8 - Absolutely brilliant from the RB Leipzig starlet whose stock has surely risen considerably during the tournament.
  • Borna Sosa (LB): 7 - Has consistently been fantastic at club level for VfB Stuttgart and he was good today on both sides of the ball for Croatia.
  • Marcelo Brozović (DM): 7 - Justified his selection in midfield once again at the base of the three-man deployment. He was good on the night.
  • Luka Modrić (CM): 7.5 - Ageless from the Croatian legend on the night after another consummate performance that showed he remains world-class.
  • Mateo Kovačić (CM): 6.5 - His talent is undeniable but the Chelsea midfielder is still guilty of consistently being inconsistent, which showed here again.
  • Andrej Kramarić (RW): 6 - Remains an enigma at international level and is unable to produce similar performances seen from him at Hoffenheim.
  • Ivan Perisić (LW): 6.5 - Used in a moe advanced role for his country than under Antonio Conte at Tottenham, Perisić struggled to have the same overall impact.
  • Marko Livaja (CF): 6 - Not the same level as some center-forwards Croatia has boasted over the years, falling short of the standard needed.
  • Bruno Petković (Sub): 6
  • Mario Pašalić (Sub): 6
  • Lovro Majer (Sub): 6

Belgium Player Ratings

  • Thibaut Courtois (GK): 7.5 - A strong performance in goal once again from the Real Madrid shot-stopper, who is perhaps one of the only Belgian players to leave with his head held high.
  • Thomas Meunier (RB): 7 - Usually questionable at club level, Meunier typically can turn it up a notch for Belgium at times and he did so today.
  • Toby Alderweireld (CB): 6.5 - Alderweireld was okay overall but, much like his partner in crime in defense, it’s time to move away from him.
  • Jan Vertonghen (CB): 6.5 - Not the end of a credible career that Vertonghen will have wanted but his performances reflect his career trajectory.
  • Timothy Castange (LB): 6.5 - Remains far off the standard from some of his appearances for Leicester City, and his place should no longer be a guarantee.
  • Leandro Dendonker (CM): 6.5 - Decent from the versatile midfielder but lacks certain attributes to really have a bigger impact when alongside Axel Witsel.
  • Axel Witsel (CM): 6.5 - Was okay overall but it remains clear that Witsel is no longer a real viable option for Belgium moving forward, even as a depth consideration.
  • Dries Mertens (CAM): 6 - Gifted a fantastic chance in the first half, Mertens’ performance was a microcosm of the golden generation this tournament.
  • Kevin De Bruyne (RW): 7 - There was little else De Bruyne could have done after creating multiple chances that Belgium simply did not tuck away.
  • Yannick Carrasco (LW): 6.5 - Presented with a good goalscoring chance in the second half but his effort was dealt with. Decent overall.
  • Leandro Trossard (CF): 6 - Unable to make an impact akin to his form for Brighton and justifiably was removed before the 60min mark.
  • Romelu Lukaku (Sub): 4
  • Thorgan Hazard (Sub): 6.5
  • Jeremy Doku (Sub): 6.5
  • Youri Tielemans (Sub): 6
  • Eden Hazard (Sub): 6

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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