Belgium suffered a shock group stage exit at 2022 FIFA World Cup, after being held to a goalless draw against Croatia.
A competitive first-half saw Ivan Perisic nearly fired Croatia ahead after eight minutes before Andrej Kramaric saw a penalty overturned in the 15th minute, due to an offside during an initial free-kick.
Belgium though produced the best chances throughout the game which eventually finished goalless, as Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku saw shots denied by Dominik Livakovic.
Lukaku meanwhile proceeded to see several late attempts denied by last-gaps saves from Livakovic, as the third-placed team from 2018 FIFA World Cup suffered a sixth elimination at the group stage, and failed to reach the knockout stages for first time since 1998 tournament.
Croatia meanwhile finished second in Group F after Morocco beat Canada 2-1 in the other Group F match to top the group.
In the Round of 16, Croatia will meet the winner of Group E on Monday 5 December at 6pm AST local time, whilst Morocco will face the Group E runners-up 24 hours later on Tuesday 6 December.
Post-match, Belgium manager, Roberto Martinez announced that he would depart his role with immediate effect, as he issued the following statement in his press conference: “The decision was taken just before the World Cup. I always work towards the long-term projects and they need to be set in advance.”
With victory guaranteed to see either team advance to the knockout stage, Croatia made a fast and furious start as Perisic curled wide after just eight seconds from the kick-off.
Belgium though refused to let their dreams implode quickly as they dug in defensively, which led to a 13th minute counter-attack as Kevin De Bruyne raced forward to tee up Dries Mertens, only for the forward to curl his shot over the top-right corner.
Two minutes later, Yannick Carrasco fouled Kramaric inside the box during a Croatian free-kick which referee, Anthony Taylor deemed as a penalty.
Taylor however overturned his penalty decision following a lengthy discussion with Video Assistant Referee (VAR) due to an offside during the initial free-kick.
Both teams thereafter traded chances throughout the remainder of the first-half with no breakthrough goal prior to half-time, as Croatia largely dominated with scrappy chances upon goal.
Morocco meanwhile sat top of Group F at the break through goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri with a 2-1 lead over Canada, despite Nayef Aguerd’s 40th minute own goal allowing the Canadians back into the match.
Josko Gvardiol though nearly sent Croatia top in the 50th minute as he picked up Marcelo Brozovic’s pass and teed up Mateo Kovacic, who was only able to fire over the bar from the edge of the box.
Thibaut Courtois made a crucial double save in the 54th minute as he denied Brozovic then Luka Modric in quick succession.
Belgium missed a huge opportunity to find the opening goal on the hour mark as De Bruyne on the counter-attack unleashed Carrasco, yet the 29 year-old saw his block blocked by Dominik Livakovic to Lukaku who saw his shot cruelly smash away off the right post to safety.
Lukaku two minutes later headed wide De Bruyne’s pullback cross from the left in another wasted chance as Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ saw their title ambitions begin to fade once again.
Belgium eventually began to throw the kitchen sink at Croatia in desperation to avoid a shock early exit, with Lukaku firing wide of the bottom-right corner in the 87th minute.
Lukaku then headed a 90th minute cross from Thorgan Hazard onto goal from close-range only for Livakovic to save his attempt on the line.
Croatia eventually clung on to secure a knockout spot for only the third time in their history, albeit as runners-up after Morocco topped the group with their 2-1 win over Canada.
Croatia: Dominik Livakovic, Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic (Majer 90+2′), Andrej Kramaric (Pasalic 64′), Marko Livaja (Petkovic 64′), Ivan Perisic
Substitutes: Josip Stanisic, Borna Barisic, Martin Erlic, Lovro Majer, Ivo Grbic, Nikola Vlasic, Mario Pasalic, Bruno Petkovic, Ante Budimir, Mislav Orsic, Domagoj Vida, Ivica Ivusic, Josip Sutalo, Luka Sucic, Kristijan Jakic
Belgium: Thibaut Courtois, Thomas Meunier (E.Hazard 87′), Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Timothy Castagne, Leandro Dendoncker (Tielemans 72′), Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens (Lukaku 45′), Yannick Carrasco (Doku 72′), Leandro Trossard (T.Hazard 59′)
Substitutes: Simon Mignolet, Koen Casteels, Arthur Theate, Wout Faes, Youri Tielemans, Romelu Lukaku, Michy Batshuayi, Thorgan Hazard, Eden Hazard, Jeremy Doku, Hans Vanaken, Charles De Ketelaere, Lois Openda, Zeno Debast
Referee: Anthony Taylor (England)