Croatia reach World Cup round of 16 as Belgium's golden generation stay trophy-less

Croatia reach World Cup round of 16 as Belgium's golden generation stay trophy-less

For Croatia, runners-up at the 2018 World Cup, a draw was enough so it was about managing the game in the best way. They thought they had a penalty before VAR intervened for an offside and only conceded one chance to their opponents in the first half.

Martinez sent Lukaku on at half-time with the mission to change the game and qualify his team. He could and should have done it with multiple golden chances missed. This was not Lukaku's World Cup or Belgium's.

This was supposed to be their last dance! This World Cup in Doha was the last time they could all get together after ten years as a group in big competitions and try to finally win a trophy. Things turned sour though. This has been a dreadful tournament on and off the pitch. Belgium have showed a terrible image of themselves with poor performances, collectively and individually, tensions, controversy and negative headlines.

Eden Hazard, the captain, has gone through this World Cup like a ghost. Even if he is only 31, he might have a long think about his international future. It is a sad ending of what has been a wonderful story for many years, but it is time to start rebuilding. The process should have started a while ago but Martinez stayed too loyal to his golden generation. And they all paid for it in this tournament.

2. Bold calls don't pay off for Martinez as Lukaku will rue missed chances

Did he think that he had to change something to create an electroshock and wake his players up? Was he too adventurous in his team selection? Nevertheless, Roberto Martinez got it wrong. His decisions didn't pay off and Belgium are out of the World Cup in the group stage which is embarrassing.

What will hurt most is Lukaku coming on at half time and missing four chances to put Belgium ahead. His teammates were in disbelief when Lukaku failed to convert a close range effort which bounced off his chest and into the arms of the Croatia goalkeeper. Another chance rocketed off the post and across the goal to the sideline. It just wasn't his night. No other player has missed more big chances across the entire World Cup so far.

Without the ball, the formation became a 4-4-2 which was unbalanced as De Bruyne didn't defend on the right. Once again, like in the previous two games, Martinez changed something at halftime. Lukaku came on and got a chance to score before hitting the post on the hour mark. He clearly changed the game and gave more of a threat to Belgium than ever in this World Cup so far. De Bruyne also grew into the game and created many chances.

However, it was not enough. Martinez was just not inspired on Thursday, like all throughout this tournament, and this humiliating elimination so early is vastly on him.

If there is a team in this World Cup who knows how to manage a game, it is Croatia. A draw was enough for them to qualify for the last 16 and even if they created some decent opportunities, they were clearly very happy to control the 0-0 and get the point they needed. They suffered a little bit at the start of the second half when Lukaku came on and hit the post, and especially in the dying minutes when he should have scored.

It could have been Luka Modric, but Brozovic bossed the midfield. He was outstanding with his game management, had 98 touches, a good shot saved by Courtois and made eight passes into the final third. His football IQ is so high that he is an absolute joy to watch in a game like this.

He wanted to start and felt that he deserved to start. He had his chance today and showed absolutely nothing. He didn't create anything, didn't pose a threat, didn't impact the game at all. He was so easy to defend against and was so poor that Martinez took him off just before the hour.

Thierry Henry with Romelu Lukaku after the match 💔😥

Belgium's Castagne on Roberto Martinez resigning: "We didn't know he was leaving but we had a feeling he would leave. It's a shame to finish like this his tenure. He had brought a lot of Belgian football. The last few years were great for us and it's a shame that it ends with a failure like this. He only spoke to us a little bit after the game but he will probably do more tonight at the hotel or tomorrow."

- Romelu Lukaku (BEL): Expected goals (xG) of 1.67 against Croatia today; the highest number of any player at the 2022 World Cup

Croatia: As the second-place finisher from Group F, Croatia will play the first-place finisher from Group E.