Lukaku missed four clear chances resulting in a draw with Croatia.
The problem with a golden generation is that one day it turns into base metal.
Belgium had the most to do. They needed to win to be sure of qualifying for the last 16, whereas a draw was enough for Croatia. There was a way Belgium could go through with a draw, or Croatia with a defeat, but that didn’t happen.
These were two of the oldest teams in the competition, and some of these legendary footballers were about to appear in a World Cup game for the final time: Kevin De Bruyne, Luka Modric, Romelu Lukaku, Ivan Perisic, Eden Hazard, Marcelo Brozovic, Toby Alderweireld, Dejan Lovren.
Two golden generations duking it out, with everything at stake. As final group games go, this was a nail-biter.
It was a shaky start for Belgium with Croatia getting the first chance at the game. Croatia almost scored after eight seconds! Straight from the kick-off, Modric flipped an insouciant pass forward towards Perisic, who cut inside Meunier on the edge of the area and whistled the bouncing ball just wide.
Belgium settled down after that nervous start. In fact, nothing happened for a while until De Bruyne lead a counter-attack, running 50 yards before angling a through pass to Mertens. He run round the ball, just inside the area, but curled it high and wide.
And then, Belgian hearts almost dropped as a penalty call was given but later ruled out for offside.
The second half would see even clearer chances but none were taken well.
De Bruyne made just another space to put in a wicked cross from the right. Gvardiol leapt to shin it behind for a corner, an important interception with Lukaku waiting behind him.
Croatia would get a chance of their own. Gvardiol rumbled forward and stabbed a pass to Kovacic just inside the area. He took a touch and spanked a rising drive that was pawed over the bar by Courtois. Brozovic then curled a low shot from 20 yards that is shovelled away by Courtois, plunging to his right. Moments later he makes his third good save of the half, again diving low to his right to push away Modric’s left-footed shot.
But there would be more chances for Belgium in the closing minutes. De Bruyne put Carrasco through on goal with a subtle, angled-through pass. His shot was blocked brilliantly by Juranovic, stretching just in front of the goalkeeper, and Lukaku slapped the loose ball off the inside of the near post. It wasn’t an open goal – the keeper Livakovic was back on his feet and there was a defender nearby as well – but it was still a great chance.
And again another chance was missed. De Bruyne’s cross from the left nicked off the head of Lovren, taking Livakovic out of the game in the process, and is headed over an open goal by Lukaku.
And in the final moments, Lukaku missed from four yards. It was unbelievable. A cross from the left is headed up in the air and drops to Meunier on the right side of the area. He cushions it towards Lukaku, who can’t sort his feet out quickly enough and shins the ball just far wide.
And to cap off his worst night, Lukaku missed a fourth time. Thorgan Hazard’s brilliant cross beats the leaping Livakovic at the near post; Lovren missed his header and the ball hits Lukaku, five yards out in front of a completely open goal, before rolling miserably into the arms of Livakovic.
And with that, the game was over. Morocco win the group, Croatia finish second and the story of this game however was Belgium, whose golden age is over. Poor Romelu Lukaku, who missed some unbelievable chances, was in tears. Most of the other players were sitting down, trying to process this crushing failure.