Romelu Lukaku missed a string of late chances as Belgium exited the tournament Globalism Cup in the group stage after Thursday’s goalless draw with Croatia sent the 2018 runners-up to the knockout stage.
Croatia’s penalty was controversially overturned by the VAR early in a largely uneventful first half.
Lukaku’s introduction in the first half changed the game, but he was guilty of three horrific errors as Zlatko Dalic’s side had their luck holding on.
Croatia advanced in second place in Group F behind winners Morocco, who beat Canada 2-1 to also qualify for the last 16.
Belgium, second in the world, has experienced a shock end to having reached at least the quarter-finals in four consecutive Grand Slams.
Roberto Martinez’s men managed just one goal of the tournament in a lucky 1-0 win over Canada.
Martinez dropped captain Eden Hazard to the bench as one of four changes that also saw Leandro Trossard and Dries Mertens start for the first time in Qatar.
Rumors of a brawl between the top Belgian players, involving Eden Hazard, which Martinez called “fake news”, dominated the build-up to the match.
Croatia almost took the lead in the first 10 seconds, as the ball was played forward to Ivan Perisic after the kick-off and the Tottenham man cut inside the goal and drilled a wide shot off the far post.
The likelihood of Belgium needing to win increased when Morocco scored an early goal through Doha. Yannick Carrasco had the opportunity to open the scoring, but his shot was blocked.
– Penalty disallowed –
Mertens pulled off a trademark Kevin De Bruyne pass before Croatia were awarded a penalty seconds later when Carrasco edged past Andrej Kramaric in the penalty area.
But the decision was overturned after a lengthy VAR check decided that a small part of Dejan Lovren’s shoulder was offside.
Desperate for a goal after a first half in which either side mustered a shot on goal, Martinez crossed Lukaku, Belgium’s record goalscorer, for Mertens in the first half.
They carried more of the threat right away as Lukaku, who had struggled with injury in the build-up to the tournament, headed straight for Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Levakovic.
Thibaut Courtois was then called into action for the first time, stretching to tip Mateo Kovacic’s effort into the balls as the match opened.
This also suited the Croatian forwards and Courtois had to stand twice to clear low shots from Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric.
Belgium should have taken the lead on the hour mark.
Carrasco almost hit the ball but Levakovic saved it before Lukaku tried to hit the post with the goal difference on the rebound.
Lukaku was guilty of an even worse error two minutes later, heading over an empty net from six yards, although replays suggested the ball might have been out of play when De Bruyne headed it in.
Martinez also threw in Thorgan Hazard, Youri Tielemans and Jeremy Dooku as Belgium looked for that all-important goal.
Lukaku saw another opportunity come and go in the 87th minute, chipping the ball away from Thomas Meunier’s shot.
The striker, on loan at Inter Milan from Chelsea, still had another golden opportunity to be the hero, but he opted to block the ball into the open net from three yards out and steer it into the arms of Levakovic.
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