Croatia scraped into the World Cup last 16 after a tension-filled 0-0 draw with Belgium that ensured the last hurrah of their opponents’ ‘golden generation’ ended in a dismal group-stage exit.
Roberto Martinez’s side needed a win at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium to keep their hopes alive but could not break down the Croats who finished as Group F runners up behind Morocco. Substitute Romelu Lukaku fluffed four golden chances to break the deadlock as Belgium cast off the shackles in the second half, although Croatia, who would have gone home had they lost, had their own opportunities to find a winner.
Martinez announced after the match that he would be leaving his role following the disappointing campaign, and with starts such as Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne already north of 30, Belgium’s best chance of World Cup glory might now have passed them.
Croatia vs Belgium latest news
FULL TIME! Croatia progress with 0-0 draw to send Belgium home
60 minutes: Romelu Lukaku hits the post
HALF TIME: Croatia 0-0 Belgium
19 mins: Croatia have penalty decision overturned after tight offside call
Croatia 0 - 0 Belgium
F/T: Croatia 0-0 Belgium
17:02 , Harry Latham-Coyle
You have to feel for Romelu Lukaku a bit. He arrived at this tournament having played so little this season, and his lack of match sharpness really, really showed as virtually every Belgium chance fell his way after a half-time introduction.
But ultimately the striker will be judged on his goals - or lack of them. Is that it for this so-called Golden Generation? You’d imagine Roberto Martinez’s future likely lies elswhere.
F/T! Croatia progress alongside Morocco with Belgium out
16:58 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Belgium exit the World Cup! They had their chances in that second half, but a 0-0 draw is enough for Croatia to hold on and join Morocco, who have beaten Canada to top the group, in progressing.
FULL TIME! CROATIA 0-0 BELGIUM
16:54 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 90 +1 minutes
16:52 , Harry Latham-Coyle
What a challenge from Josko Gvardiol! Lukaku is there again, ready to pounce as another ball seems set to spill his way, but Gvardiol somehow gets his foot in first to deny the striker.
Four added minutes.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 90 minutes
16:51 , Harry Latham-Coyle
How has he missed? Oh my!
Brilliant football from Belgium, Jeremy Doku darting through the taller timbers like a wren through the hedgerow, creating room on the right for Thorgan Hazard. The younger Hazard crosses to the back, beating the leap of a defender, but Romelu Lukaku has failed to track its flight, letting it hit his chest.
The ball still bounces goalwards, but not with the requisite power to beat Dominik Livakovic, who gratefully grasps it.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 88 minutes
16:49 , Harry Latham-Coyle
The Belgian fans roar their disgust as Anthony Taylor halts Kevin De Bruyne after what looked a legally taken quick free kick to create space for a teammate. Taylor waves some organising hands before permitting the midfielder to take again.
De Bruyne’s next attempt is claimed by Dominik Livakovic, confidently striding out off his line.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 87 minutes
16:47 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Diverted wide! Another significant chance for Romelu Lukaku, though the striker knows very, very little about it. Thomas Meunier fires a volley across goal that rather collides with Lukaku’s knee.
It could bounce anywhere - but scurries a yard-or-so wide.
Hazard is on for Thomas Meunier.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 85 minutes
16:45 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Kevin De Bruyne troubles the side netting via a blocking Croatian boot.
He’ll take the corner...which loops away errantly from Jan Vertonghen’s head after the defender mistimes his leap.
Eden Hazard will soon be amongst things.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 78 minutes
16:38 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Jan Vertonghen is furious as Anthony Taylor awards a goal kick after his header appeared to deflect off a Croatian head before spooning out of play. Vertonghen roars at the referee, but Taylor’s not for turning.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 76 minutes
16:36 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Belgium pass from left to right, searching for a crossing opportunity with Romelu Lukaku - who doesn’t look to be moving fully freely - waiting in the box. Youri Tielemans eventually hurls a lofted ball in, but can’t beat the second defender.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 72 minutes
16:31 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Two changes, in fact. Jeremy Doku and Youri Tielemans replace Leander Dendoncker and Yannick Carrasco.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 70 minutes
16:30 , Harry Latham-Coyle
A reminder that with Morocco winning against Canada, a Belgium goal would send them through and Croatia out. Roberto Martinez appears to be preparing another substitution.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 67 minutes
16:27 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Leander Dendoncker is booked for a foul.
Luka Modric comes charging on to a lifted cross from Bruno Petkovic, throwing himself through the air like an acrobat on the trapeze to launch a shot of sorts on goal - his connection with the bouncing ball is sound, but Thibaut Courtois is able to gather cleanly diving to his left.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 65 minutes
16:24 , Harry Latham-Coyle
A double switch for Croatia as they bid to regain control. Mario Pasalic and Bruno Petkovic are on for Andrej Kramaric and Marko Livaja.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 62 minutes
16:22 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Another major missed opportunity for Romelu Lukaku! The ball may have run out of play before being crossed from the left but the whistle does not go, and Lukaku simply has to hit the target from seven yards out after the ball flicks off a Croatian head. Almost inexplicably, he guides it over the crossbar.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 60 minutes
16:21 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Off the post! So close to the goal Belgium need for Romelu Lukaku!
It’s brilliant from Kevin De Bruyne, apparating into space between the Croatian midfield and defence. He sets Yannick Carrasco free with a curved pass, and the ball spins to Lukaku after the winger is squeezed out.
Lukaku strikes instinctively with his right boot and slams against the inside of the post.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 59 minutes
16:18 , Harry Latham-Coyle
And here is that Belgium change: Leandro Trossard off, Thorgan Hazard on.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 57 minutes
16:17 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Borna Sosa continues to find joy marauding up the left for Croatia, working into position to stand up a cross but planting it too close to Thibaut Courtois’s great plate-sized hands.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 56 minutes
16:16 , Harry Latham-Coyle
How much longer until Croatia consider a change? Their midfield dominated proceedings in the first half but the front three have just gone a little quiet.
Belgium are sending for a Hazard - but it’ll be Thorgan rather than captain Eden.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 54 minutes
16:14 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Croatia have come to life, too. Thibaut Courtois is twice forced into low saves to his right, turning away efforts from Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric. Comfortable enough for the goalkeeper.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 51 minutes
16:11 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Romelu Lukaku has transformed Belgium’s attacking play. The striker holds the ball up and draws three to him before laying off for Kevin De Bruyne’s, who releases a wayward drive in the vague direction of goal.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 49 minutes
16:09 , Harry Latham-Coyle
This has been much livelier since half time. Mateo Kovacic forces Thibaut Courtois into a sprawling stop after curling for the top corner from 25 yards.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 48 minutes
16:08 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Lukaku is lurking beyond Gvardiol as the defender hooks behind for a corner.
A chance! The set piece is cleared but returned to the back post, but Lukaku’s header is weak and claimed easily by Dominik Livakovic dropping to a knee.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 47 minutes
16:07 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Romelu Lukaku might be short of match fitness but he at least gives Belgium a proper forward focal point.
He nearly turns Josko Gvardiol straight away, but can’t quite gather into his stride cleanly with the ball caught beneath his feet.
16:04 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Ah, yes - Romelu, we’ve been expecting you.
Lukaku replaces Dries Mertens.
H/T: Croatia 0-0 Belgium
16:02 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Roberto Martinez must surely think about a half time change. Eden Hazard? Romelu Lukaku? Wout Faes? Anything to enliven a flat performance from Belgium.
H/T: Croatia 0-0 Belgium
15:55 , Harry Latham-Coyle
The replays of the offside call that chalked off the penalty really aren’t clear - and even the semi-automated graphic show only the tiniest sliver of Dejan Lovren’s shirt in an offside position. It’s right in law and we are using the technology as fully as possible, but is this really benefitting football?
H/T: Croatia 0-0 Belgium
15:53 , Harry Latham-Coyle
“It’s been terrible,” is Alan Shearer’s pithy assessment of the half on the BBC, and it’s hard to disagree. Aside from the penalty incident, there’s been very little to excite the Al-Rayyan crowd, with Belgium severely short of effort and energy despite knowing a win is likely a must to progress.
Croatia will be happy enough having held their opponents at arm’s length - though they’d have loved the penalty to have stood.
HALF TIME! CROATIA 0-0 BELGIUM
15:50 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 45 + 4 minutes
15:49 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Fired over! The last action of the half is from Josip Juranovic, with the right back lashing over the bar on the volley.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 45 + 2 minutes
15:48 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Into four minutes of first half stoppage time. Leander Dendoncker needlessly chops down Mateo Kovacic as the Croatian midfielder sashays towards a blind alley of Dendoncker’s Belgian teammates, but Croatia can’t make anything of the free kick.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 45 minutes
15:46 , Harry Latham-Coyle
A shooting opportunity for Borna Sosa, providing support from left back and fed the ball 30 yards out. He’s encouraged to hit it as Belgium back off slightly, giving Sosa time to consider his approach. He hould therefore do rather more with it, troubling the fans high in the stands beyond Thibaut Courtois rather than the Belgium goalkeeper.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 44 minutes
15:44 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Canada have grabbed one back against Morocco - the first own goal of the World Cup taking the overall tally to 100 as we near the end of the group stage.
No change in the group standings.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 42 minutes
15:42 , Harry Latham-Coyle
The disapproving sweep of a Mexican wave rather reflects the crowd’s lack of engagement in a contestst that has lacked dynamism since that Croatia non-penalty.
Better from Belgium, working sharp angles on the right, but unable to apply the finishing the touches as the ball fizzes across the box.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 37 minutes
15:38 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Superb recovery work from Ivan Perisic. Leander Dendoncker wins possession inside the Croatia half and passes to Leandro Trossard, who meanders about as his teammates move forward in transtition. Trossard takes a half beat too long to release his pass, allowing Perisic to harpoon the ball with the point of his right boot, with Kevin De Bruyne a frustrated figure having peeled into fine crossing position on the right.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 33 minutes
15:34 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Croatia look rather more proficient when they foray forward. Borna Sosa and Ivan Perisic are working neatly up the left, with their latest combination resulting in a deep cross that lands on Marko Livaja’s head.
Livaja gets underneath it and tries to nod it back across Thibaut Courtois, but flights it slightly too far - over the angle of the goal.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 31 minutes
15:32 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Belgium are really battling to inject any sort of tempo. Dries Mertens swings in an entirely directionless cross from the left, the ball both so shallow and underhit that it ends up entirely unclear who the forward, now of Galatasaray, was actually aiming for.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 29 minutes
15:30 , Harry Latham-Coyle
A slightly slower game seems to be suiting Croatia, who are dropping back into their shape nicely. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld have exchanged plenty of passes in the last five minutes.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 26 minutes
15:26 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Perisic then wins a corner off Thomas Meunier’s lower limbs.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 25 minutes
15:26 , Harry Latham-Coyle
That’s very cooly done by Ivan Perisic, guiding a header all the way back to his goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic after a ball loops aimlessly his way 30 yards out.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 24 minutes
15:25 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Morocco have doubled their lead against Canada - it looks like the North African side will certainly be one of the Group F teams advancing to the last-16.
A few whistles from the crowd as the current standings in the group are displayed on the big screen. Croatia would finish second behind Morocco if this remains goalless.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 22 minutes
15:23 , Harry Latham-Coyle
That long delay has rather punctured a game that was bubbling away rather nicely in the opening quarter. Belgium play the ball about at the back, happy to keep it.
No penalty! Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 19 minutes
15:20 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Wow - no penalty! The VAR call came late, with Luka Modric already standing over the ball 12 yards out. But Dejan Lovren’s shoulder had been just beyond the rear-most point of the final defender as he readied to contest the initial free kick in, making Yannick Carrasco’s rather obvious planting of a foot onto the top of Andrej Kramaric’s boot irrelevant.
Anthony Taylor overturns his call, infuriating the Croatian players - it was properly tight, too.
Or is it? Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 16 minutes
15:17 , Harry Latham-Coyle
VAR Marko Fritz has called down to Anthony Taylor and asked the referee to have a look at a potential offside on the monitor.
PENALTY TO CROATIA! Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 15 minutes
15:15 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Down goes Andrej Kramaric and it is a penalty for Croatia!
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 13 minutes
15:14 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Dries Mertens must do better! Belgium switch from defence into attack in seconds, Kevin De Bruyne driving forward with typical purpose and clarity of thought. He rolls the ball on to his right boot to create an angle for the through ball, placing it perfectly into the stride of Mertens, but the forward opens his body up too much and curls over the crossbar.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 11 minutes
15:11 , Harry Latham-Coyle
That’s a better chance! Dries Mertens springs in behind Dejan Lovren, timing his run perfectly and combining with Yannick Carrasco.
The left winger collects, steadies himself, but again finds his effort blocked as he tries to beat Dominik Livakovic at the near post.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 10 minutes
15:10 , Harry Latham-Coyle
And that’s the first small glimpse at goal for Belgium: Yannick Carrasco’s shot troubles two pairs of blocking Croatian legs as he cuts in from the left.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 9 minutes
15:09 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Leandro Trossard may not be the burliest of blokes but he shows good strength to hold off the masked menace Josko Gvardiol, quickly at the Brighton forward’s back as Trossard takes a forward pass. Gvardiol is whistled for a foul.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 7 minutes
15:07 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Belgium are pressing hard, trying to disrupt Croatia’s passing rhythm, but so far struggling to do so. Luka Modric is picking up some lovely spaces between the lines, earning a throw off Kevin De Bruyne’s pointy knee as he looked to exchange passes and progress.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 6 minutes
15:06 , Harry Latham-Coyle
News of an early goal in the other fixture - Morocco are 1-0 up already against Canada.
Croatia settle into a spell of possession.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 3 minutes
15:04 , Harry Latham-Coyle
It appears to be a back four for Belgium. From right to left: Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Timothy Castagne.
Leander Dendoncker is on the right of a midfield three, with Kevin de Bruyne seemingly in a free role.
Croatia 0-0 Belgium, 1 minute
15:01 , Harry Latham-Coyle
So nearly an instant opener! A long ball forward from Luka Modric is delightfully weighted, and Ivan Perisic’s half-volley is crisply struck. Just wide - an agonised exhale from the Tottenham wing, who has started on the left of the front three.
15:00 , Harry Latham-Coyle
The action is underway.
Here we go...
15:00 , Harry Latham-Coyle
A slap of hands and an exchange of pennants between the two captains.
Croatia will kick off.
14:57 , Harry Latham-Coyle
The Croatian players have also donned navy anthem jackets, draping palms to hearts as they sing “Lijepa naša domovino”.
Belgium are in white with paler blue flourishes around the neck. Kevin De Bruyne never sings “La Brabançonne”, staring out into the middle distance as the rest of his teammates orate.
Croatia vs Belgium
14:54 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Out strides Anthony Taylor, flanked by the rest of his on-field officiating team, and swiftly followed by Luka Modric, Kevin De Bruyne and the rest of the combatants. The Ahmad bin Ali Stadium looks close to full.
Zlatko Dalic and Roberto Martinez share a warm, smiley cuddle as they exit the tunnel, each clad in fetching navy jackets.
Croatia vs Belgium
14:50 , Harry Latham-Coyle
The players are beginning to ready themselves in the tunnel. 90 minutes left of group stage football for Croatia and Belgium - remember that if Morocco avoid defeat against Canada, one of them is going out.
14:48 , Harry Latham-Coyle
English referee Anthony Taylor will oversee proceedings in Al-Rayyan today, by the way, with Marco Fritz his chief VAR in the room of many screens. Taylor sent off South Korea manager Paulo Bento after a heated touchline exchange at the end of their entertaining encounter with Ghana on Monday - he’ll be hoping for a slightly calmer end to the game and rather less hostility from the technical areas.
Croatia vs Belgium
14:38 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Right then - less than half an hour until kick off. This might be it for Belgium’s grand generation - defeat today would surely mean we have seen the last of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld at a major tournament, and possibly Axel Witsel and a couple of others, too. I’d expect them to try and start fast this afternoon. Croatia always seem to have a degree of calm about them - disrupting that might be key.
14:25 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Thibaut Courtois, meanwhile, wins his 100th cap in goal. The Real Madrid stopper was really quite strong in dismissing the rumours of a divide in the Belgium camp this week, noting his hope that his side could move on from any potential disagreements and still succeed in Qatar.
How many more caps might Courtois get? He’s only 30, and there aren’t any young Belgian goalkeepers yet really beating on the selection door.
Modric vs De Bruyne
14:08 , Harry Latham-Coyle
That might leave plenty of responsibility on Kevin De Bruyne’s creative shoulders as the Manchester City playmaker looks to finally burst into life in Qatar. The suggestion in the Belgian press was that De Bruyne’s comment that the squad might be “too old” had riled a number of his teammates, but he starts again and will take on an increased leadership role with captain Eden Hazard ropped.
And this really is a midfield match-up to get people purring - Luka Modric is still doing his thing at an exceptionally high level even as his years advance. Their duels could be crucial.
Croatia vs Belgium
14:03 , Harry Latham-Coyle
It will be fascinating to see exactly how that Belgium backline sets up. It’s certainly an unexpected starting eleven from Roberto Martinez - Trossard and Mertens’ zip should worry the Croatian backline, but it’s a surprise not to see a slightly more physical centre-forward in the side.
Team News - Belgium
13:55 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Roberto Martinez’s selection is rather more intriguing - there’s no Romelu Lukaku, nor, in fact, Michy Batshuayi, with Dries Mertens and Leandro Trossard forming a mobile but minute forward line.
Back three? Back four? Each is eminently possible based on the selection behind - Belgium’s official graphic appears to suggest three centre halves with Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco as wing-backs, but we’ll see.
Belgium XI: T Courtois; T Alderweireld, L Dendoncker, J Vertonghen; T Meunier, A Witsel, K De Bruyne, T Castagne, Y Carrasco; D Mertens, L Trossard.
Team News - Croatia
13:49 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Croatia are, as anticipated, entirely unchanged from the starting side that went so well against Canada.
Croatia XI: D Livakovic; J Juranovic, D Lovren, J Gvardiol, B Sosa; L Modric, M Brozovic, M Kovacic; A Kramaric, M Livaja, I Perisic.
Who will qualify from Group F?
13:28 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Right, on to the qualification permutations. Only Canada are out of contention in Group F, with Croatia and Morocco currently level on four points at the top of group. Belgium’s place in the last 16 will be secured only with victory, which would leave Croatia hoping Canada can beat Morocco - Zlatko Dalic’s side currently have a superior goal difference to the North African side.
To make things simple, it’s win and in for either of these two, with the other likely going home. We’ll provide updates on Morocco vs Canada throughout the afternoon, but if you’d like to stay across events as they happen there in a more detailed manner, do join my colleague Jonathan Gorrie here.
And Zlatko Dalic insists his Croatia side expect the best
13:14 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Enjoying the last knockings of his nation’s own golden generation is Zlatko Dalic, with the Croatia boss knowing a win or draw today would ensure progression through to the last-16.
“We will not be fooled by media stories and rumours,” said Croatia manager Dalic of the chatter surrounding their opponents. “We are expecting the best from Belgium, a great team with excellent players.
“We must not relax. [Martinez] is a great coach and will know how to hurt Croatia.”
Roberto Martinez plays down reports of strife in the Belgium camp
13:09 , Harry Latham-Coyle
Roberto Martinez had little time for the rumours in the Belgian press of unrest within his squad, following Thibaut Courtois in denying any hint of division and accusing journalists of jumping on “fake news”.
“Some people are quite happy to jump on fake news,” Martinez said yesterday. ““It is quite astonishing. It shows you that maybe there is more desire to find negative news about the team rather than enjoy the best generation of talent that we’ve ever had in Belgian football.”
13:03 , Alex Young
Belgium should get a much-needed boost with Lukaku’s return but come up against a Croatia side believing they can match their fine run of four years ago.
A 2-2 draw.
Belgium team news: Lukaku fit to start?
12:58 , Alex Young
Belgium plan on having Romelu Lukaku fit to start after a late cameo against Morocco to return from injury. Michy Batshuayi will drop out if so.
Youri Tielemans, Yannick Carrasco, Leandro Trossard and Jeremy Doku are all candidates for a starting berth with Roberto Martinez likely to make changes.
Croatia team news: Livaja to keep his place
12:50 , Alex Young
Marko Livaja replaced Nikola Vlasic for the Croats after an injury to the West Ham loanee ahead of the win over Canada.
Having scored in that rout, Livaja should keep his place in what could be an unchanged line-up.
Where to watch
12:43 , Alex Young
TV channel: In the UK, the match will be televised free-to-air and live on BBC One, with coverage beginning at 2.30pm.
Live stream: Fans can also catch the game live online via the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website.
12:34 , Alex Young
Hello and welcome to the Evening Standard’s LIVE coverage of the World Cup group game between Croatia and Belgium.
It’s do-or-die time for Belgium and their golden generation. Croatia, runners-up at the World Cup four years ago, stand between them and a knockout stage spot.
Kick off is at 3pm GMT. Stick with us.