Crash of the Golden Generation. Following a scoreless draw with Croatia, who advanced from second place in Group F, Belgium was eliminated from the World Cup. Belgium’s performance was tumultuous in all the wrong ways during a hectic week that included rumored divisions within the team and nearly all of the footballing world watching them.
After a lifeless draw with Croatia in the group stages,‘s team was eliminated from Qatar in 2022. And even though a draw was expected to be enough for them to advance before the game began, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic’s quick kick-off routine nearly cost them the game in the opening minute. That partially reflected the game’s story; Belgium was poorer than Croatia in terms of sharpness and never appeared to pose a sustained threat. After the break, the pace picked up a little bit, but given that Morocco was ahead of Canada, it wasn’t nearly good enough.
Romelu Lukaku provided a depressing picture of Belgium’s reality when he came off the bench and missed as many as four wonderful opportunities, the first two of which were open nets. Elimination appeared more and more likely with each one wasted. The decision to give Eden Hazard a few minutes in the closing seconds was unquestionably the last-ditch effort, but it was obviously insufficient to push the Red Devils—who are presently ranked second in FIFA’s world rankings—over the finish line and into the World Cup’s knockout rounds.
The Performing Side:
Morocco: Morocco took advantage of a frail Canada and stole a march to the top of Group F while Croatia and Belgium played to a dull stalemate. The burden was still on Morocco as they faced a team that has shown they can damage opponents despite already being eliminated, while all eyes were on Martinez’s team and whether they would finally get going.
However, Morocco wasn’t phased by the challenge or the occasion and promptly scored, effectively setting up their shop and creating a foundation from which to work. They did in fact score a second goal and hold on for a 2-1 victory, winning the group.
Thibaut Courtois: Thibaut Courtois went from racking his brains for 45 minutes to suddenly needing to keep Belgium in the game as a result of Belgium’s aging backline not being quite as impermeable as it once was and his team chasing the game in search of victory. He made a superb trio of stops early in the second half to keep the scores equal, making them all appear far more simple than they actually would have been. He also maintained his composure throughout. The Real Madrid goalkeeper can be proud despite another dismal performance for the Red Devils.
Pep Guardiola: The Manchester City manager would have been licking his lips while sitting in front of his widescreen TV. Not because he is a huge lover of Croatian soccer, but rather because his prized player Kevin De Bruyne will be returning home as soon as possible. He’s probably already planning his approach to meet him at the practice field. Give him a hug, join in on the mockery of the Belgium team, and fill him with rage in time for the Boxing Day return of Premier League games. When the domestic season resumes, De Bruyne ought to be nearly fully healthy and ready to go.
The Losing Side:
VAR: Every week, we all have this conversation, but it must take place. VAR was at it once more. The more crucial concern is why the referee is being brought over to the monitor to look for offside, regardless of whether the penalty awarded to Croatia in the 15th minute was soft or not.
Additionally, Anthony Taylor wasn’t even sent there until Luka Modric had already prepared himself to take the penalty kick. With every dubious choice, it only gets more complicated and frustrating.
Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’: Even though it may sound silly, you occasionally have to say goodbye to the people you care about the most. But every time you watch them, it becomes less ludicrous and more vital that Belgium move past its “Golden Generation.” The aging guard stood out in this labored contest for all the wrong reasons.
The less said about the back line, the better. Dries Mertens was hooked at halftime, De Bruyne appeared confused without the assistance of others in midfield, Eden Hazard didn’t even get a chance to start, and there wasn’t much to say about the midfielders. Belgium must push the debate over the “golden generation” aside, put it in the back of their minds, and start over with the younger talent on the team because it is unquestionably there.
Romelu Lukaku: Everyone is pulling for you, Rom. They are, in fact. But as time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to think of yourself as the elite striker you claim to be. Let’s start with the justification: the 29-year-old has missed much of the season due to injury and is definitely not match-ready. Having said that, it’s difficult to attribute his missed four glorious scoring opportunities to a lack of match sharpness.
Unfortunately, Lukaku’s lack of a clinical edge in front of the goal is nothing new, especially when it matters and the opposition is formidable. You could tell right away that he wouldn’t make the net bulge when he missed the first two shots. In a nutshell, Belgium required a hero. You either live or die in these moments. Unfortunately for him, by twice missing an open net and then passing up other golden opportunities, Belgium’s World Cup hopes dealt a fatal blow.
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