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Winners & Losers

Belgium, that was pathetic! Winners, losers & ratings as hopeless Belgium crash out of World Cup after Lukaku horrorshow

21:22 GMT+4 01/12/2022
Belgium World Cup
The Golden Generation crumbles. Belgium are out of the World Cup following a 0-0 draw with Croatia, who advance from second place in Group F.

In a chaotic week involving reported rifts within the squad and just about all the eyes of the footballing world on them, Belgium's performance was chaotic in all the wrong ways.

Roberto Martinez's side crashed out of Qatar 2022 having failed to make it out of the group stages following a lifeless draw with Croatia.

And while ahead of kick-off a draw was good enough to advance, they almost fell behind inside the first minute thanks to a swift kick-off routine involving Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic. In part, that told the story of the game; Croatia weren't sharp enough, but Belgium were even worse, and never looked like actually sustaining a consistent threat.

The tempo upped somewhat after the break, but considering Morocco were ahead against Canada, it wasn't anywhere near good enough. Romelu Lukaku coming off the bench to miss as many as four glorious opportunities - the first two of which were open nets - painted a dismal picture of Belgium's reality. With each one squandered, elimination looked more and more inevitable.

Eden Hazard being given a handful of minutes in the dying embers was truly the last roll of the dice, but was of course not enough to get the Red Devils - currently second in FIFA's world rankings - over the line and into the World Cup knockout stages.

GOAL runs through the winners, losers, and player ratings on an admittedly dark hour in Belgium's football history.

  • Pep Guardiola Man City

    The Winners

    Morocco:

    While Croatia and Belgium played out to a bore draw, Morocco pounced on a fragile Canada and stole a march atop of Group F for their efforts.

    With all the eyes on Martinez's men and whether they would finally kick into gear, the pressure was still on Morocco, who were coming up against a side who have proven they can hurt their opponents despite already having been eliminated.

    But Morocco weren't shaken by the task or the occasion and fired in an early goal, setting up their stall well and building a platform to work on. Indeed, they added a second and held on four a 2-1 win, securing first place in the group in the process.

    Thibaut Courtois:

    He's really good, isn't he?

    With Belgium's ageing back line not quite as watertight as it once was, and his side chasing the game in search of victory, Thibaut Courtois went from scratching his head for 45 minutes to suddenly needing to keep Belgium in the game.

    He produced a stunning trio of saves early in the second half, making them all look far more routine then they actually would've been, to keep the scores level and never looked flustered.

    On another poor night for the Red Devils, the Real Madrid stopper can hold his head high.

    Pep Guardiola:

    The Manchester City boss would've been sat underneath his widescreen TV licking his lips.

    Not because he's a particularly big fan of Croatian football, but because his prized asset Kevin De Bruyne is heading home at the earliest convenience.

    We're certain he's already thinking about how he'll greet him at the training ground. Throw an arm around him, join in with the belittling of the Belgium squad and fuel him with vengeance in time for the return of Premier League football on Boxing Day.

    By the time the domestic season restarts, De Bruyne should be close to full fitness, raring to go once again. That's dangerous.

  • Romelu Lukaku Belgium

    The Losers

    VAR:

    It's a conversation that we all have, every single week, but it needs to happen. VAR was at it again.

    Whether or not the penalty awarded to Croatia in the 15th minute was soft or not, there's a more important question to be asked - why is the referee being sent over to the monitor to check for offside?

    Not only that, but Anthony Taylor was only sent over there after Luka Modric had already got himself ready to take the spot kick. It's endlessly confusing and becomes more frustrating with every questionable decision.

    Streamline the technology or scrap it altogether.

    Belgium's 'Golden Generation':

    Sometimes you have to say goodbye to those you love the most, even if it seems an absurd decision.

    Belgium moving on from their 'Golden Generation', though, becomes less absurd and more necessary every time you watch them. In what was a laboured game all round, it was the old guard who stood out for all the wrong reasons.

    Dries Mertens was hooked at half-time, De Bruyne looked lost without the help of others in midfield, Eden Hazard didn't even get a chance from the start, and the less said about the back line, the better.

    In order for Belgium to move forward, they need to sweep this golden generation discourse under the carpet, put it to the back of their minds and start afresh with the younger talent within the squad, because it's absolutely there.

    Romelu Lukaku:

    The whole world is routing for you, Rom. They really are. But as time goes on, it gets harder and harder to believe that you're the top-level striker you think you are.

    Let's get the excuse out of the way first; the 29-year-old has been injured for the bulk of the season and is obviously not match sharp.

    Having said that, it's hard to blame match sharpness on him missing four glorious chances to score. Four, Romelu. Really? Unfortunately, though, it's not a new thing to see Lukaku lack a clinical edge in front of goal, certainly in moments where it matters and the opposition is tough. And when he missed the first two, you just knew he wasn't going to make the net bulge.

    Simply put, Belgium needed a hero. These are the moments you live and die by. Unfortunately for him, Belgium's World Cup campaign received a final nail in its coffin as a result of him missing an open net - twice - and then spurning yet more presentable opportunities.

  • Toby Alderweireld Belgium

    Belgium player ratings: Defence

    Thibaut Courtois (7/10):

    Did well to bat away an effort from Mateo Kovacic early on in the second half and was down low shortly after to stop an effort from Marcelo Brozovic. After an untroubled first half, the towering stopper showed his class in the second.

    Leander Dendoncker (7/10):

    Key in keeping Ivan Perisic quiet when he tried to burst inside. Played in a brilliant, low cross from the touchline back to the penalty spot for Mertens in the first half which deserved an assist.

    Toby Alderweireld (6/10):

    Seemed to have Croatia troubled with his long-range passes whenever he used them. Ought to have tried the long ball more often.

    Jan Vertonghen (6/10):

    No calamities, but wasn't able to speed up the game or press high up the pitch and make it more difficult for Croatia to play.

  • Kevin De Bruyne Belgium

    Midfield

    Thomas Meunier (4/10):

    Offered nothing in terms of attacking thrust. Helped out his defenders, but needed to do more than that on a night where Belgium needed a win. Really underwhelming.

    Kevin De Bruyne (6/10):

    Had to spend too much time in a defensive setting helping out his colleagues, which rendered him rather useless for the most part unless Belgium had the chance for a quick counter-attack. Needed an extra body in midfield to free up the magician.

    Axel Witsel (5/10):

    Did his job out of possession competently, but needed to offer more in terms of getting on the ball and ensuring Belgium stayed in control.

    Timothy Castagne (3/10):

    A similar story to Meunier, but perhaps more disappointing considering we know what Castagne is capable of in an attacking sense.

  • Dries Mertens Croatia Belgium 2022

    Attack

    Leandro Trossard (4/10):

    You'd be forgiven for forgetting he was ever on the pitch, in truth. A very underwhelming display from the Brighton man who has been red hot this season. Didn't get into the game at all.

    Dries Mertens (3/10):

    Unfortunately looked every bit a 35-year-old being asked to lead the line for his country in a desperate bid to salvage something. Lacked any quality in the box or speed to react first ahead of defenders. Well off the pace and rightly hooked at half-time.

    Yannick Carrasco (6/10):

    Was saved by VAR early on, and while it looked a soft decision, he was punished for overplaying it in his own box. Picked up after the break, albeit in flashes, but looked a threat whenever he had the ball at his feet and a path into the box.

  • Eden Hazard Belgium

    Subs & Manager

    Romelu Lukaku (3/10):

    A nightmare cameo. Lukaku managed to rattle the post from an open goal after an hour. He then headed over from yet another open goal mere moments later, which was concerning. He was now in his own head, and missed another two huge chances late in the game. Bleak.

    Thorgan Hazard (5/10):

    Didn't make much of an impact off the bench, truth be told.

    Jeremy Doku (5/10):

    Stretched the game somewhat, but was let down by poor finishing from his side.

    Youri Tielemans (6/10):

    A shame he didn't get a start with Belgium needing more legs in midfield. The Leicester City midfielder added another layer of finesse and allowed De Bruyne to get forward more regularly.

    Eden Hazard (N/A):

    Given three minutes plus injury time to try and win his country a game. If that doesn't summarise his downfall, what does?

    Roberto Martinez (3/10):

    Named a very conservative starting XI that lacked energy and territory in midfield, which put Belgium on the back foot from the first whistle. Deserves some credit for trying to change the game with substitutions, but Martinez was the architect of his own downfall, here; this could be the last time he sits in the dugout for Belgium, too.