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World Cup: Belgium laments missed opportunities of its ‘golden generation’ as Red Devils crash out
Belgium’s so-called golden generation of players was sent home by Croatia after drawing 0-0 in the final group match of the Qatar World Cup on Thursday.
The first, rather lethargic half, was dominated by failed chances from both sides, including a daring attempt from outside the box by Luca Modrić in the first 10 seconds of the game. It caught Belgium off guard, missing its target by centimetres.
Drama ensued with a penalty given to Croatia due to a late tackle by Yannick Carrasco on Andrej Kramaric. However, VAR ruled that his team-mate moved a fraction too early during Modrić’s free kick, resulting in the goal being disallowed.
Belgium’s coach Roberto Martínez decided to put all his cards on the table in the second half, hoping to squeeze his team through the critical group stage with the win it needed. Romelu Lukaku was introduced into the attack, but the Inter Milan striker, lacking match fitness, frustratingly missed a series of opportunities to bury the ball in the back of the net.
His fellow battle-fatigued team-mate, captain Eden Hazard, was brought on for the past seven minutes. But the Red Devils’ tournament dreams fizzled out in the final moments of the lacklustre game.
Judging by the players’ distress after the final whistle, including Lukaku’s tears and angry punching of his team’s dugout, they knew this brusque exit marked the final world cup appearance for many of them.
With Croatia joining Morocco into the final 16 and knock-out matches, it’s the first time since 1998 that Belgium had not made it out of the group stages.
The upset, although not entirely unforeseen, signals the need for some serious restructuring and long-overdue kindling of team spirit before the next big tournament comes around. With Martínez announcing his departure after a six-year stint of management, there’s definitely change in the air in Belgium’s football camp.
Photo: A dejected Romelu Lukaku following Belgium’s draw with Croatia at Qatar World Cup © Belga/Virginie Lefour