Croatia vs. Belgium: Score, Grades and Post-Match Reaction

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2013

Belgium are the 11th nation to guarantee their passage to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, having beaten Croatia 2-1 on Friday to seal top spot in UEFA Group A.

Once more it was a Romelu Lukaku attacking display which stole the show, thanks to both his extraordinary physical capability and his cool head in front of goal:

I see Lukaku's scored 2x tonight. All very well doing it for Anderlecht, WBA, Everton, Belgium but could he do it for Chelsea? (Answer: yes)

— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) October 11, 2013

Ivan Perisic gave the ball away in midfield with a rotten pass, with Belgium midfielder Steven Defour quickly finding the central run of Romelu Lukaku. The on-loan Everton striker bore down on goal, easily outpacing the defence, before calmly rounding the keeper and slotting home with his right foot to give Belgium the lead on 15 minutes.

Croatia tried to use their large quantities of possession to get themselves back in the game, but, in truth, it was often passive and lateral domination of play rather than leading to any significant territorial advantage.

Belgium were next to go close through a Marouane Fellaini header, which Pletikosa had to parry off his goal-line to safety.

They were not to be denied though, and Lukaku scored a second goal after Croatia lost the ball from their own free kick, were countered against, and the burly striker simply burst through the whole Croatia half of the pitch to roll home the second.

The jeers of the home crowd at half time were only matched by the cheers and celebrations of the away side, 45 minutes from the World Cup at that point.

Croatia came out with far more intent and a better tempo after the break, but Courtois was, in truth, rarely tested by shots from inside the penalty area.

Fellaini went close with another clipped effort and Croatia put a succession of crosses into the area, but it wasn't until the 83rd minute that they finally beat Courtois, with Niko Kranjcar rocketing a strike into the roof of the net after a scramble in the box.

There wasn't enough time for anything more concrete from the home side, and Belgium celebrated the final whistle to mark their return to a major international tournament.


Key Player Grades


Romelu Lukaku: B+

Took his goals extremely well, showing great pace, power and composure to open the scoring early on. Whatever else he achieves at international level, he scored the goals which ended Belgium's 12-year wait for a return to World Cup action. He perhaps didn't hold up the ball after the break as well as he might have done and didn't link up with his midfield regularly enough, when Croatia came back into the game and had more possession, but he nonetheless made the biggest impact on the match.


Marouane Fellaini: B

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 06:  Marouane Fellaini of Belgium in action during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group A match between Scotland and Belgium at Hampden Park on September 6, 2013 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Fellaini put in a dominant display in midfield in the first half, winning the ball back quickly and being a threat moving into the final third too. After the break, he dropped deeper and got involved in a few scrapes, but overall put in a big performance, especially considering he needs wrist surgery. Croatia's increased pressure and territorial possession after halftime was a concern for Belgium, with Fellaini having to work hard to control space rather than the ball for his team.


Ivan Rakitic: B

Rakitic's one-touch passing and good movement for a long time looked likely to be Croatia's best route back into the game, while his dribble and fierce shot just into the second half might have produced a penalty for handball on another day. Rakitic certainly thrives when given licence to roam, as he has both ability to run with the ball into space from deeper positions as well as the technique to play shorter, first-time passes further up the field. A little bit more service to striker Mario Mandzukic might have gone a long way toward helping Croatia back into the game earlier on.


What's Next

Belgium face Wales in Brussels in their final group match on Tuesday, which is now essentially meaningless for both sides. Meanwhile, Croatia will play in Scotland for their own last game, in the knowledge that they are already guaranteed second spot in the group. They may need a win, though, to ensure they do not end up the worst runner-up, and wouldn't get a playoff spot in that case.