Croatia v Belgium –
Final Score/Result: Croatia 1-2 Belgium
Man Of The Match: Romelu Lukaku scores a brace
Belgium Qualify for World Cup 2014
Both Belgium and Croatia were at least guaranteed a place in the play-off before this match and this game was to decide who would qualify directly as the group winners. Romelu Lukaku made all the difference in the end as he almost single handedly booked Belgium’s place.
The 20-year-old, who is currently playing on loan at Everton, gave the away side an early lead. The goal arrived from a poor pass by Ivan Perisic, which was easily intercepted by Steven Defour and the 25-year-old played Lukaku through on goal with a wonderful ball and the big striker didn’t disappoint as he rounded of the goalkeeper to slam home the opener.
Lukaku completed his brace and doubled the lead before half-time as Belgium hit Croatia on a fast counter attack. But the goal was all about the power and pace of the Chelsea forward. The Croatian defence simply couldn’t leave with him and he ran almost half the pitch before finding the back of the net.
Croatian manager Igor Stimac made a few changes in the second half and his side put in a better performance. They dominated possession as Belgium sat deep, but failed to create too many clear cut openings. Belgium on the other hand looked dangerous on the break and seemed more likely to score another goal. But Croatia finally had something to show for all their possession in the second half as former Tottenham midfielder Niko Kranjcar slammed home a wonderful volley after Courtois made a wonderful save from Kalinic.
The home side failed to score the equalizer and the match ended in favour of Belgium. Croatia will now have to go through the play off while Belgium have booked their place in Brazil.
Meanwhile Romelu Lukaku has refused to take all the credits for the win and insisted that it was a team performance that helped them secure this win.
“I’m not the match winner, the team makes a difference. We played well. The players I can finally express our stamp on the team, Lukaku is proud.
“The last quarter we were difficult (to break down), but two years ago we could still lose here after the 1-2. Now we have shown that we have a winning mentality.
“On Tuesday we play at home in the last match (against Wales), but it is certainly not a gala match.
“We will do everything to win.” – The Belgium striker said.
Belgium manager, Marc Wilmots, has insisted that the celebrations have been put on hold as they have another game left in this group.
“We are happy but we are not partying. We have had a moment in the locker room, for euphoria is still too early.
“Tuesday we have another game and I hope we also tackle seriously.
“They played very mature.” – Wilmots said.
Croatia v Belgium – Statistics
Statistics courtesy Whoscored.com And Soccernet.com
While Lukaku will grab most of the headlines after this game, Axel Witsel’s similarly important contribution in the midfield will perhaps go unnoticed. But then again Belgium are at their best when Witsel seems invisible. He provides the shield in front of the defense and was one of the reasons why Croatia failed to create too many openings despite dominating possession. The above heatmap shows his movement and positioning on the pitch.