Dejan Lovren and Luka Modrić celebrate Croatia advancing to the final 16
Foto: Piroschka Van De Wouw / REUTERS
The Croatian national football team played Belgium to a 0-0 draw in the last match in Group F of the World Football Championship in Qatar and thanks to a hard-fought point won second place, which leads them to face the winner of Group E in the round of 16.
In the first 60 minutes, Croatia made a better impression and were closer to a goal, but in the last half hour of the game, the Belgians threatened dangerously, mostly through Romelu Lukaku, who entered the game in the second half. Luck and good reactions of the last line of defense, in which Joško Gvardiol was great again, kept Croatia "alive" and among the 16 best national teams that will remain in the fight for the world championship title.
Zlatko Dalić decided to send the same starting line-up that bore the brunt of the victory over Canada (4-1) in the decisive match of the group stage, with double scorer Andrej Kramarić initially on the right wing and Marko Livaja as a central striker.
Compared to the duel with the Moroccans, Roberto Martinez made a big turn in the offensive part of his team. Brothers Eden and Torgen Hazard, and Michy Batshuayi remained on the bench, and Leandro Trossard, Yannick Carrasco and Dries Mertens replaced them in the starting line-up. Amadou Onana was absent from the midfield due to yellow cards, so Kevin De Bruyne played a slightly more defensive role. Leander Dendoncker was inserted into the stopper line, and Timothy Castange took a position on the left flank.
Ten seconds were needed for the Croatian footballers to take the first shot at the Belgian goal. Ivan Perišić received the ball on the left side of the penalty area, decided to shoot immediately with his left foot, but his shot was not accurate enough to force Thibaut Courtois to intervene.
Already a minute later, Mateo Kovačić reached the penalty area, passed to Andrej Kramarić, but the double scorer against Canada failed to find space for a shot towards the goal, so a promising situation in front of the Belgian goal failed.
Yannick Carrasco and Ivan Perišić
Foto: Piroschka Van De Wouw / REUTERS
After ten minutes of Croatia’s initial superiority, Belgium threatened with fast and dangerous counterattacks. In the 11th minute, Yannick Carrasco passed on the left side, but Josip Juranović managed to block his shot from the box.
Only two minutes later, Dries Mertens threatened even more dangerously. Belgian captain Kevin De Bruyne passed him a great ball, and Mertens sent the ball over the crossbar from 15 meters unimpeded.
In the 15th minute, Croatia seemed to have the best chance to score, as Anthony Taylor awarded a penalty kick after Yannick Carrasco stepped on Andrej Kramarić in the penalty area. However, after a two-minute VAR check, the English referee went to look at the video and concluded that at the beginning of the action that led to the penalty kick, Dejan Lovren was offside by a shoulder, so he canceled his decision.
Despite the unfavorable outcome in that disputed situation, given that the official footage of Lovren's offside showed something that was impossible to see with the naked eye, in the remaining time in the first half, Croatia was the one who had control over the events on the field, but did not come to distinct scoring opportunities.
The shots either ended up in a Belgian block or were not accurate enough. Marko Livaja came closest in the 33rd minute, after an excellent cross from Borna Sosa, but he sent the ball over the bar with his head from ten meters.
Belgium made a potentially dangerous move in the 42nd minute. Dendoncker went down the right wing, sent the ball back five meters, but none of his teammates were there.
Sosa shot from 18 meters in the 45th minute, but it was inaccurate. In the referee's extra time, Perišić was a little late to Kramarić's cross, and in the continuation of the action, Juranović sent the ball over the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area.
At the beginning of the second half, Martinez replaced Dries Mertens with Romelu Lukaku and the best Belgian striker took a shot at Livaković for the first time in the 48th minute. The cross from the right side was sent to the second post, where Lukaku was the highest in the jump, but Livaković was also well positioned and caught the ball in his arms without difficulty.
Two minutes later, Thibaut Courtois also had to react on the other side. Joško Gvardiol found himself in the role of a midfielder, playing for Mateo Kovačić, who shot under the crossbar, but the Belgian goalkeeper saved the shot.
Thomas Meunier and Borna Sosa
Foto: Bernadett Szabo / REUTERS
In the 54th minute there was a similar action, except that Livaja and Kovačić prepared an opportunity for Brozović's shot, but Courtois managed to deflect the ground ball.
In the 60th minute, Croatia survived a dull situation. De Bruyne sent the ball to Carrasco, who was running into the penalty area accompanied by Juranović. Juranović managed to block Carrasco's shot, but the ball bounced to Lukaku, who hit the post from ten meters away.
In the 62nd minute, Belgium had another chance to score. De Bruyne crossed from the left flank, Livaković missed the ball in an attempt to punch it out, and Lukaku headed over the crossbar from ten meters away. It is believable that the goal would not have been recognized, because the video clearly showed that when De Bruyne's cross was made, the ball was already out.
Dalić made the first substitutions in the 64th minute. Kramarić was replaced by Mario Pašalić, and Livaja was replaced by Bruno Petković. It was Dinamo's striker who created the opportunity in the 68th minute. Luka Modrić ran to his cross from the right side, made it to the 11 meter mark, but his shot with his right foot was not strong enough to overcome Courtois, who easily saved the shot of his teammate from Real.
A new promising action by Croatia took place in the 76th minute, when Bruno Petković entered the penalty area from the left side, but instead of a shot he chose a pass, and there was no one on the return ball.
In the 78th minute, Perišić launched a counterattack followed only by Vertonghen. When it seemed that he managed to break free of him before entering the penalty area, the Belgian stopper still managed to stop Perišić and prevent him from attempting a shot.
Joško Gvardiol and Romelu Lukaku
Foto: Stephane Mahe / REUTERS
In the 87th minute, the Croatian fans trembled again. After several bad reactions in the Croatian defense, the Belgians began a siege around the penalty area. Thomas Munier kicked a high ball towards the box, where Romelu Lukaku was waiting, the ball bounced off his shin and went past the left post of the Croatian goal.
Three minutes later, Doku shuffled the right side of the Croatian defense and switched to the other flank, where Thorgen Hazard was. His cross into the box surprised Lukaku a little, who deflected the ball, but Livaković managed to stop it before it crossed the goal line.
In the second minute of added time, Joško Guardiol saved the Croatian net by slipping in front of Lukaku, taking the ball off his boot three meters from the goal.
Croatia managed to defend itself, not conceding a goal, and this meant that for the second time in a row it qualified for the round of 16, while for the third-placed national team from the World Cup 2018 in Russia, the tournament was over.
On Monday, Croatia will be in action again against the winner of Group E, and according to what has been shown so far, it will most likely be the Spanish national team.
Modrić and Lovren
Foto: Stephane Mahe / REUTERS
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