By Anmar Goodridge-Boyce
Belgium and Germany are out. The third-place nation at the FIFA World Cup four years ago in Russia and the second highest ranked country at this year’s edition, has made a shocking early exit from the tournament.
It’s hard to believe but the harsh reality is, a team with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku was sent crashing out of the World Cup at the first barrier, failing to reach the knock-out stage.
Given the group dynamics, it was simple for Belgium, only a win would do. While for their opponents Croatia, avoiding defeat was the requirement.
In the end, the two teams played to a goalless draw with Belgium packing their bags and going home at the sound of the full-time whistle. They managed three points from three matches in what turned out to be a disappointing campaign considering how close they went in 2018.
But if you thought this was a shocking result, then you weren’t prepared for what was coming next. Belgium sunk earlier and three hours later the Germans were stunned and shocked as well.
The upsets continued in earnest today, and this showed why the FIFA World Cup is the greatest show on earth.
Belgium deserve to go home and quite rightfully; their manager Roberto Martinez has stepped down as head coach after this calamitous display on the world stage.
Belgium created several goal-scoring opportunities but failed to hit the target on a night where they needed to score and win to keep their hopes of winning the World Cup alive.
However, it just wasn’t to be but while Belgium were awful in front of goal, credit must be given to Croatia and their defensive approach to the match.
Former Chelsea and Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku had numerous golden chances to give Belgium the lead but was far from his best in front of goal.
His best opportunity came in stoppage time after he stuck a leg out at a ball from close range which eventually went wide of the bar. De Bruyne was nowhere near the player he is for Manchester City as the man regarded as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, lacked creativity and the intelligence to carve open the Croatian defense.
Belgium produced an unimpressive display and Martinez waited until the 85th minute to enter Eden Hazard into the fray, a little too late. They deserve to be eliminated from the contest.
In the end, Croatia, the 2018 runners up emerged with the critical point they needed to progress from Group F as the second-place team as Morocco won the group with a 2-1 victory over Concacaf nation Canada.
Meantime, over in Group E, Japan staged a remarkable comeback to beat 2010 champions Spain 2-1 and send Germany home at the group stage for the second consecutive World Cup.
It was pure drama. After a routine start to the final matches of the group with Alvaro Morata giving Spain a 1-0 lead and Serge Gnabry scoring the opener for Germany, the best was yet to come. Germany needed to beat Costa Rica and hope Spain drew with or defeated Japan. Neither of the two situations happened, Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka scored second half goals as Japan beat Spain 2-1 despite Alvaro Morata’s opener in one of the most thrilling nights.
At one stage, Costa Rica took a 2-1 lead which would have meant both Spain and Germany would go home. Nevertheless, the Germans went on to win 4-2 but it wasn’t enough to see them reach the Round of 16.
Serbia 0-0 Switzerland
Cameroon 0-3 Brazil
Ghana 1-2 Uruguay
South Korea 0-2 Portugal