Croatia clung on for their World Cup lives to reach the Round of 16 and eliminate a Belgium team that finally came to life in their final 45 minutes in Qatar.
The opening half produced next to nothing in the way of notable action – save for a penalty awarded to Croatia but overturned by the VAR, who detected Dejan Lovren stepping marginally offside prior to Yannick Carrasco’s foul on Andrej Kramaric.
Thibaut Courtois made a trio of good stops after the restart to repel, in order, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric. Roberto Martinez had introduced Romelu Lukaku for the second 45 minutes and, with Belgium upping the tempo in pursuit of the goal they needed to progress, the striker took centre stage for the final half hour.
Lukaku clattered the inside of a post after Kevin De Bruyne’s pass unzipped Croatia for Carrasco to speed into the box. Josip Juranovic made a fabulous intervening tackle but was horrified to see the loose ball running favourably for Lukaku. The Inter Milan forward experienced similar emotions after hitting the woodwork with the goal gaping and frustration gave way to disbelief when Lukuaku headed over from in front of the target following a De Bruyne delivery from the left byline.
Into the frantic closing stages and Lukaku couldn’t adjust his feet quickly enough to divert Thomas Meunier’s effort on target. Josko Gvardiol slid in to stop a low delivery reaching Lukaku in the six-yard box. And those two opportunities sandwiched a flighted Thorgan Hazard cross that deceived Dominik Livakovic and travelled over the top of Lovren. Lukaku saw it late and couldn’t control, enabling Livakovic to gratefully clutch on to the ball and Croatia’s World Cup hopes.
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