Belgium have qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil after a 2-1 win away to Croatia sealed their place as winners of Group A.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice in the first half to have Belgium cruising in a game in which they only needed a point to qualify.
Niko Kranjcar did pull a goal back in the final ten minutes, but Belgium held on to deservedly book their place in Brazil with room to spare.
It was the home side who created the first chance and perhaps should have done better with it after three minutes. Ivan Perisic collected the pass by Ivan Rakitic and drove a shot at goal from 20 yards, but the midfielder couldn’t get his shot on target from a very good position. Croatia will have known how important it was to take their chances against a side like Belgium and that was proven correct when the away side took the lead after 16 minutes.
Perisic was at fault again as he gave the ball away with a sloppy pass in midfield but credit must go to Stevem Defour’s vision as he picked out Lukaku’s run with a first time pass. The Everton striker still had a lot to do but took the ball around Stipe Pletikosa with confidence before rifling in to the empty net. It was a goal at the perfect time for Belgium and in truth, they never looked back from this moment.
Marc Wilmott’s side piled on the pressure in the search for a second goal with Vedran Corluka making an important interception to stop Daniel van Buyten from scoring after good knockdown from Marouane Fellaini. Just after, the Manchester United midfielder saw his powerful header tipped around the post by Pletikosa, but Croatia would not hang on until half-time as Belgium doubled their lead in the 38th minute.
The goal seemed to be a carbon copy of the first as Lukaku raced on to Axel Witsel’s pass before rounding Pletikosa and tapping in to the empty net. It was a well-taken strike again from the young forward, who was only starting the game thanks to Christian Benteke’s injury.
Belgium’s dominance meant that Thibaut Courtois’s first save of the game took until the 45th minute to arrive. Rakitic’s clever cross allowed Bayern Munich man Mario Mandzukic to head at goal, but the Belgian goalkeeper kept his position sharp and held on to the shot with confidence.
In the second half, Belgium put in a professional performance by limiting their opponents’ chances and creating good ones of their own. Fellaini should have scored from Kevin Mirallas’ low cross, but Pletikosa made a good save to keep the score at 2-0.
It wouldn’t end with that score-line though as Croatia pulled a goal back in the 83rd minute. After Courtois made a fantastic save to keep out Mandzukic from four yards, the ball broke to Kranjcar on the edge of the box and the former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder powered into the roof of the net with a lethal half-volley, but it was purely a consolation goal.
The full-time whistle sparked wild celebrations as Belgium booked their place in Brazil, which will be the country’s first FIFA World Cup since the tournament in South Korea in 2002. Meanwhile, Croatia will have to settle for second place and play-off berth in their mission to qualify for the tournament.
Match Report by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)