Belgium has been at the top of the FIFA World Ranking for about 3.5 years without a break. But this did not result in a real prize for the current No. 2 of that ranking. The Belgians finished third in Russia’s previous World Cup and were knocked out of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 and 2020 European Championships after the quarter-finals.
Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Dembele, Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen have already retired from a golden generation of Belgians. Jan Vertonghen (35), Dries Mertens (35), Toby Alderweireld (33) and Axel Witsel (33) will likely not qualify for the next World Cup either. Kevin De Bruyne (31), Thibaut Courtois (30) and Romelu Lukaku (29) may still be there in four years in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Croatia has been stronger than Belgium for a long time. Luka Modric thought he could take a penalty kick for the previous World Cup’s No. 2 in the opening stage. But the VAR judged Andrej Kramaric was offside before Yannick Carrasco sent him off. Croatia quickly cured this disappointment. But the best chance to rest was for Mertens, who shot wide.
Mertens and Leandro Trossard appeared in the first match because Lukaku and captain Eden Hazard were not fit enough according to national coach Roberto Martinez. Lukaku was allowed in immediately after the break and hit the post an hour later. Before that, goalkeeper Courtois stood in the way of Croatia’s opening goal three times in his 100th international match. Lukaku had two big chances in the final stage. But the all-time leading Belgian scorer missed miserably.
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