Croatia 0 – 0 Belgium
(Group F, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, 01/12/2022)
In their first game, the ageing Belgium side just about scraped past Canada before Morocco beat them comfortably. Croatia played out a goalless draw with Morocco in their opening match before coming from behind to beat Canada comprehensively. Belgium, Croatia and Morocco can all progress to the last sixteen. A win or a draw, if Morocco drop points, will see Croatia top the group. To progress, Belgium must win and hope that Canada defeat Morocco. This fixture is the seventh meeting of the two teams and their first in the World Cup. Belgium and Croatia each have three wins from the previous six matches.
Lukaku, who came on as a late substitute against Morocco, again starts on the bench alongside Eden Hazard and Batshuayi. Mertens will lead the attack. Trossard, a potential Chelsea transfer target, makes his first World Cup start. Courtois reaches the one hundred cap mark.
1 minute. Within 10 seconds of the match starting and directly from the kick-off, Croatia almost take the lead. From inside the centre circle Modric lofts a long ball out to the right finding Peresic near the left corner of the box. Peresic touches the ball inside Meunier and drives the ball a foot or two wide of Courtois’ left post. If the ball had gone in, it would have been the quickest ever World Cup goal.
2 minutes. The Croatians almost break through again. From just inside their own half, a long ball down the left finds Kovacic running free. Kovacic checks back, beats Dendonker, turns and passes across the area to find Kramaric. Castagne and Witsel force Kramaric to turn away and pass right out to Juranovic wide of the area. He crosses towards the near post where Castagne clears. Juranovic’s long throw is headed away by Alderweirald. Juranovic collects the clearance and plays the ball down the line towards Modric. The ball hits Modric rebounding to Carrasco who touches it inside to Mertens. Mertens passes back to Castagne. His clearance hits Brozovic rebounding to Modric. Modric plays a first-time diagonal ball into the area to find Livaja. He pulls the ball back towards Kramaric. Witsel’s interception goes to Castagne who passes it out left to find Trossard. He turns outside and then back inside running between Modric and Brozovic. Trossard passes towards Witsel but goes past him. Peresic knocks the loose ball towards Brozovic who beats Trossard to it. Modric collects the pass from Brozovic but loses the ball trying to turn away from Mertens. The ball runs to Carrasco who skillfully evades Modric and then Brozovic. Carrasco touches it inside to Trossard and continues his run. Trossard returns the ball and Carrasco continues heading out to the right. He passes it out to Meunier who touches it back to De Bruyne. De Bruyne’s attempt to find Carrasco just inside the box is cleared. Some good pressure by Croatia. A lively start by them; a nervy one from Belgium.
4 minutes. Morocco score in the other Group F game.
10 minutes. Widish on the right, Trossard evades Peresic and Sosa pushing the ball out wider to Dendonker. His diagonal pass inside finds Mertens running beyond the defence at the right corner of the area. With the Croatians appealing for offside, Mertens knocks ball across the face of goal. Beyond the far post, Carrasco collects the ball and shoots. The shot is blocked by Livakovic. The first corner of the game is easily cleared away.
13 minutes, A brilliant counterattack from Belgium. A cross from Juranovic is headed out of the box by Alderweireld finding De Bruyne who touches it back to Meunier. Meunier immediately plays the ball back to De Bruyne. De Bruyne, with acres of space in front of him, makes a surging 50 yard run down the middle. With options left and right, De Bruyne releases a diagonal ball left towards Mertens. Mertens, running in just to the left of the D, sidefoots the ball first-time from a couple of yards inside the box. Leaning back, Mertens’ shot is high, wide and handsome. The best chance so far.
Quite simply Mertens should have scored. The Belgians look like they are getting into the game.
14 minutes, Penalty to Croatia! Out to the left midway inside the Belgian half, Witsel fouls Kovacic. Modric takes the kick floating the ball towards the edge of the 6-yard box where Vertonghen heads away. The ball is headed further out by Castagne. As the ball drops, Carrasco mis-controls with his first touch. Turning, he lunges at the ball aiming to clear with his second touch not seeing Kramaric running in trying to steal it. Kramaric goes down. Not much contact perhaps, but it looks clear-cut. There is no doubt in the mind of Anthony Taylor – he gives the penalty without hesitation. Modric prepares to take the spot kick. Will Courtois save another penalty? A VAR check, for a possible offside, delays the kick. Taylor is asked to go to the monitor. That is baffling. As has been said repeatedly, it’s either offside or it’s not. Offside decisions are normally made, or should be made, automatically without the need for a review – Taylor should have been told immediately. Review over. No penalty! The Belgians are mightily relieved. The VAR graphic showed that, as the players went for the ball, Lovren’s shoulder was very marginally in front of the lowest part, but not the highest part, of Vertonghen’s sleeve.
23 minutes. Morocco have scored again.
Group F table are shown on the stadium’s big screens. As it stands, Belgium must win the and Croatia won’t top the group.
39 minutes. Eden Hazard, Lukaku and Tielemans are warming up.
40 minutes. The Canadians get a goal back against Morocco. Goal number 100 of Qatar 2022 is an own goal, the first of the tournament
The game has been very quiet for a long while and the pace has dropped dramatically. Both teams look like they are playing as if nothing was at stake. A Mexican wave has started. That says it all.
41 minutes. A moment of excitement ends the Mexican wave. Meunier, wide on the right, plays the ball inside the box to Dendonker. He takes the ball past Gvardiol and cuts it back from the goal line. Mertens gets to the ball but can only divert the ball across the 6-yard box.
45+4 minutes. Anthony Taylor ends the spectators’ ordeal.
After a bright start, the game has descended into a turgid stalemate. Of all the games so far, 23 have been scoreless at half-time with 5 (compared to only one in the whole of the 2018 tournament) ending 0-0. With no shots on target in the first half, this match looks very much like it will go the same way. As before, the Belgians look listless. Croatia’s midfield and the team’s overall passing game is allowing them to control the game. The Croatians seem happy to settle for a draw, prepared to accept the more difficult task of playing a group winner in the last sixteen. As it stands, Belgium must win. A single Belgium goal could seal that win and put Croatia out.
The second half starts with Lukaku on for Mertens. Lukaku has scored 28 times in his last 28 internationals. Obviously, the intention is for him to put pressure on the Croatian centre backs. They have had an easy time of it so far.
47 minutes. From the left, Castagne sends a long, high cross-field ball wide out to the right. Just inside the touchline Meunier heads forward to De Bruyne. Turning before Sosa can get to him, De Bruyne crosses firmly towards Lukaku. Advancing towards the 6-yard box, Lukaku has found a space between the centre backs. Gvardiol volleys the cross out behind. An important intervention, as without it Lukaku might have scored – although Lovren had got close to Lukaku he was still the wrong side of him. De Bruyne’s corner flashed across to the far side of the box reaching Carrasco. Carrasco sends the ball back into the box where it cannons off a couple of defenders coming to Alderweireld who touches the ball outside to De Bruyne. De Bruyne lifts a cross to the far post where Lukaku, again between two defenders, jumps above them to head goalward. Though on target, Lukaku’s header lacks power dropping into the arms of Livakovic. A good start to the half from Belgium.
49 minutes. Kovacic runs down the left, goes into the area, checks and plays the ball back to Peresic. He returns the ball to Kovacic who passes back to Brozovic. He plays the ball back to Gvardiol. Running past De Bruyne, Gvardiol pushes the ball forward to Kovacic who controls with his left and shoots with his right. Courtois dives to his right tipping the ball over. A good save. Kovacic plays the corner short to Modric. Modric passes back to Brozovic who returns the ball. Modric crosses. The ball is headed out by Lukaku finding Sosa about 25 yards out. Sosa chests it down and hits a left foot shot well off target.
51 minutes. Carrasco running in from the left plays the ball into the box for Lukaku who lays it back to De Bruyne on the edge of the box. Turning left away from Modric, just outside the box to the left of the D, De Bruyne send his shot high and wide.
52 minutes. From just inside the centre circle on halfway, Gvardiol’s diagonal ball forward finds Sosa on the left. He floats a ball into the box finding Livaja who lays the ball back to the 18-yard line where Kovacic squares the ball to Brozovic. Brozovic, running in beyond Trossard unleashes a powerful shot. Even though it is almost straight at him, Courtois can’t hold the ball pushing it out and wide. Meunier is first to the ball. Running towards his own goal line, he puts it out for a throw.
53 minutes. From that, an exchange of passes, involving Sosa, Brozovic, Peresic, Sosa again and Brozovic again, ends with a ball to Kovacic who passes infield. Modric steps over the ball allowing it to reach Juranovic who pushes the ball back into the path of Modric. He pushes it inside to Livaja who plays it forward back to Modric at the right corner of the box. Just inside the area, Modric cuts inside Witsel to shoot. Courtois saves again, but again he fails to hold shot, pushing it out. Fortunately, no Croatian player is close enough to follow-up. Belgium half clear the ball which goes to Peresic who plays it out to the overlapping Sosa who overhits the cross.
58 minutes. Thorgen Hazard comes on to replace Trossard.
60 minutes. From the centre circle, Dendonker plays the ball forward to Dr Bruyne in a little space. A good diagonal ball finds Carrasco running on, goal side of Juranovic. He runs through Lovren’s challenge to shoot as he crosses the 6-yard line. It’s not clear whether the advancing Livakovic saves or the recovering Juranovic gets a foot in. It is the defender who makes the important block but the ball runs to Lukaku. With Livakovic and Gvardiol in his way Lukaku is forced to try to whip the ball in round them. Lukaku’s effort crashes into the post and incredibly bounces out rolling along the goal line. A good effort and a little unlucky – a fraction more whip on the ball would have seen it go in.
61 minutes. From a central position, Dendonker plays out right to Meunier. He passes back to Alderweireld who finds Vertonghen inside the centre circle. He passes forward to Castange who shifts it on to Carrasco wide out on the left. His inside ball to Hazard is played first-time by the substitute finding De Bruyne running beyond Lovren. De Bruyne chases the ball, just keeping it in and crossing to Lukaku. Again, he finds a gap between two defenders – Gvardiol and Sosa. Livakovic tries to cut out the cross but a deflection off Lovren’s head takes it away from him. The ball reaches Lukaku facing an empty net. He doesn’t even have to jump for it, the ball is straight onto his forehead. Incredibly Lukaku heads over the bar. It was an absolute sitter – a terrible miss. Desperate disappointment for the Belgian fans. A goal kick is given. De Bruyne hadn’t quite kept the ball in after all, so if Lukaku had scored it would have been disallowed.
63 minutes. Kramaric and Livaja depart and are replaced by Petkovic and former Chelsea player Pasalic (now playing for Atalanta). Time is beginning to run out for Belgium.
67 minutes. Gvardiol, picking the ball up about 30 yards from his goal, runs over 60 yards down the centre of the pitch before playing it out wide left to Peresic. The Croatians keep the ball well: Peresic back to Kovacic, back to Sosa, square inside to Brozovic, forward to Sosa, back to Brozovic, square inside to Kovacic, back out to Brozovic, back to Gvardiol, forward again to Brozavic and forward on to Kovacic. Kovacic runs forward making a diagonal pass into the box for Petkovic. With his back to goal Petkovic turns nicely outside Vertonghen before sending the ball towards the D. Running in Modric chests the ball, runs past Witsel and shoots. Courtois dives to his left saving the ball in front of the post. Modric was a little unlucky with the bounce of the ball making it difficult for him to get a good shot off.
71 minutes. Carrasco and Dendonker are taken off with Doku and Tielemans coming on for Belgium.
86 minutes. Witsel, in the left channel plays a diagonal pass froward to Castagne on the 18-yard line. He runs away from goal sending in a far post cross. Sosa heads away but only as far as Meunier. Meunier slams the ball towards goal. The ball comes to Lukaku. He tries to flick it in with the outside of his left foot, the ball going wide coming off his shin. Another miss but, with the ball coming at him quickly, it was a difficult chance.
87 minutes. Eden Hazard is introduced on for Meunier. A final gamble from Martinez (whose contract runs out at the end of the tournament).
89 minutes. Doku just to the left of the penalty are runs past Petkovic. The ball runs away from him but a lucky bounce off the heels of Juranovic allows him the continue his run. Good footwork takes him past Modric and away from Kovacic. A left foot pass finds Thorgen Hazard on the right side of the box. His first touch forces him a little wide but he is still able to cross to the far post with Livakovic missing the ball completely and the ball going over Lovren. Running in at the far post, Lukaku probably didn’t expect the ball to reach him (thinking Lovren would head clear). The ball strikes his chest dropping into the grateful arms of Livakovic. Another chance goes begging.
90+1 minutes. Kovacic off is taken off and replaced by Majer.
90+2 minutes. Doku by the corner flag on the left, plays the ball back down the line to Castagne. Castagne crosses to the far post. Petkovic, challenged by Thorgen Hazard, can only send the ball back across the 6-yard area. With Lukaku right behind him it looks as if Gvardiol will miss the ball. At full stretch, the defender just gets enough on the ball to divert it past Lukaku. The ball runs past Eden Hazard and Juranoovic reaching Doku. Faced by Petkovic and Juranovic, Doku tries to go outside the latter who blocks. The ball runs loose, and the danger passes.
90+4 minutes. Anthony Taylor blows the final whistle. The game is over. The Belgians are eliminated.
The second half was a much-improved spectacle compared to the first. Lukaku made a difference to the Belgians, but they are out and are devasted by that. Quite frankly though, based on their performances, they don’t deserve to go through. There must be some sympathy for Lukaku – apart from his brief appearance as a substitute against Morocco, he has played for only a little more than half an hour this season. He was probably neither fully match fit nor properly match ready. Lukaku was seen to be in tears after the game, being consoled by Thierry Henry. Later he was seen to punch the dug-out in sheer frustration.
Posted by the CSG’s World Cup Willie