Emotions surged as the final whistle blew at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium. The verdict is out – Croatia will advance to the round of 16 while Belgium will collapse as the game ends in a goalless draw. Luka Modric fell to the ground and got up to walk around the pitch thanking the Croatia fans.
He made it to the halfway point, where Romelu Lukaku sat cross-legged in tears, head buried between his knees. He extended his right hand for support and comfort. Lukaku’s tears continued to flow. He knocked out a series of great opportunities to put his team ahead. There was no redemption in sight – assumptions that haunted him forever. He pulled his shirt over his head to avoid the thousands of pitying glances from the stands. Not far from him was Kevin De Bruyne, casually looking up at the sky. In the training room, coach Roberto Martinez looked away before beginning to empathize with his players, most of them in tears.
There’s no denying the feeling that Belgium’s golden age is over. Martinez denied – “No, no. You have players like Tielemans, Doku, Onana” – but that can’t quell the overwhelming feeling of closure. There have been signs in the past that de Bruyne himself has downplayed the prospect of his team’s championship ambitions, there is still that sign today, but when the actual moment came, Belgium couldn’t handle it. Fifth, they gave everything for the game. They were frantic as well as desperate, but the sense of despair could not mask the obvious disunity of Belgium, its aging, sluggish bodies resisting the dictates of their souls.
Overcrowding is slow, supply is too much, and creativity is stagnating. On another level their inertia would be punished before they could settle down, they could have scored 60 seconds in advance when Luka Modric beautifully passed the ball to Ivan Perisic, who darted into the box but hit a shot. shot at the top.
But it’s not just Mertens to blame. Except for the bubbly de Bruyne, and Yannick Carrasco (who, however, lazily conceded a penalty that was only saved by a direct fall from offside Dejan Lovren’s arm) in confusion. , they were mostly motionless, reacting too slowly and reaching out. the ball is even slower. Lukaku’s addition has enlivened Belgium’s play, although he’s also not the most dynamic attacking player.
The defense looked shaky; midfield was disrupted, as Croatia ran away with a heavily overhauled XI squad with Leandro Trossard acting as a virtual number 9 and 35-year-old Dries Mertens reinstated right behind him, instead of Eden Hazard. Mertens, like many of his peers, has shown his age and on sunnier days he was able to score a brace. First, he delivered a lavish cross from Kevin de Bruyne, who galloped 50 yards and edged past the defense to deliver a delicious cross, only to have Mertens tumble. Belgium, hungry for goals and points, cannot squander such golden opportunities. The second spill was horrible. Clever centre-back Leander Dendoncker dashed to the touchline, cut and passed to Mertens in the near corner. One toe, one slide or one pin is all it takes to score. But he was slow to read the midfielder’s intentions and reacted more slowly.
But he delivered what Trossard, who was pushed behind him and then brought on from the bench, failed to do. Physical and targeted threats. With Lukaku prowling, Lovren and Josko Gvardiol cannot move on the field as freely as when Trossard and Mertens are trudging.
After Belgium somehow weathered the storm early in the second half, when Thibault Courtois parried a fierce attack from Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic, Belgium settled in and made some tempting offers for Lukaka . With the first, he destroyed the turret, although he got the second to get a better position than he thought; the second time he headed to the post. This will become a recurring theme in the game, as Lukaku continues to create opportunities to prolong the life of the Belgian golden generation.
By the 90th minute he was just five yards from goal, but all he could do was put the ball into the grateful palm of Dominik Livakovic. Three minutes earlier, he had cleared the ball only four yards. Inevitably, shades of tragedy lurk in the multi-tiered sunset sky above Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium. So there were enough signs for Belgium to go ahead with an overhaul, instead of clinging to the faded aura of their supposed golden generation, which wasn’t as golden as it was. Instead, history will remember them as they remember most golden generations, heirs of unfulfilled fame. Perhaps a burden will be lifted from their shoulders. There is perhaps no better team to learn from than Croatia. Unlike Martinez, his Croatian counterpart Zlatko Dalić has suppressed his emotions by excluding aging players from the second-place team in Russia. He rebuilds them with younger players, but restores older players who are still pompous like Lovren and Luka Modric, who at 36 are still the most influential players on the pitch and are esteemed, selected as the best player in the match. On the other hand, Martinez clings to the reliable but tired group, despite his ability to mingle with the young Belgian talent. But now, finally and officially, the days of the Belgian golden generation are over.
- Luka won a goalless draw, while Lukaku did not
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