Dubai: This was the end of Roberto Martinez as coach of Belgium and time must also now be up for their ‘golden generation’ as they flattered to deceive yet again. They had to beat Croatia if they wanted to reach the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup but they produced another tepid performance.
Croatia just needed a draw to advance and they didn’t show much attacking intent during the 90 but Belgium were very disappointing.
Their experienced squad flopped on the big stage when so much more was expected from them. The team is ranked second in the world by FIFA but on the evidence over the three Group F games they have played, they don’t even belong in the top 20.
Kevin de Bruyne did not help matters earlier this week by suggesting the team are too old to win this World Cup. But he had a point. Romelu Lukaku is 29 and could get an opportunity to play on the big stage again. Not so Jan Vertonghen, 35, and 33 year-old Toby Alderweireld. And at 31 De Bruyne is no spring chicken either.
They are an aging team and it is sad to see their decline. They had left themselves a tough task against a wily Croatia side who held firm to get the point they needed to reach the knockouts.
Belgium have not achieved what they should have done with the players they had. Martinez has been in charge since 2016 and led them to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2018 where they lost to France. It’s as good as it ever got for them.
They looked like they had no energy, no legs in midfield. There was no pressing and they gave Croatia too much time on the ball, as they did Canada and Morocco.
Croatia went close inside the opening 10 seconds as Ivan Perisic went for goal from distance but it went just wide. Belgium were all over the place at the back, they had made a very nervous start.
At half time they knew they were heading out and came out in the second with a bit more determination. On came Romelu Lukaku and they looked more of a threat. He gave them an outlet up front and then ought to have broken the deadlock. It was a lovely run by Yannick Carrasco who forced a block and the ball rebounded into the path of Lukaku who had a gaping net in front of him but he hit the post. Belgium’s fans could not believe it. They must have known then it would not be their night. He then missed another huge chance as the keeper completely missed a cross into the box and it fell to the substitute who headed it over. It was a sitter.
Deep into stoppage time he had another chance but in came a last-ditch challenge before he could poke the ball over the line.
The full time whistle blew and Belgium were out. Red shirts were slumped all over the pitch. Lukaku was in tears after having one of those games to forget. Martinez’s contract was expiring after this World Cup and he announced this was his last game as coach. Further big changes can be expected from top to bottom as The Red Devils seek to rebuild.