Croatia vs. Belgium: Final score 1-2, Romelu Lukaku the hero


The Belgians are in the World Cup thanks to Romelu Lukaku, while Croatia will have to go through a playoff to make the finals.

Belgium is heading to the World Cup for the first time since 2002, thanks to an impressive road performance against Croatia. They scored twice early, then hung on for a 2-1 win.

The first half was the Romelu Lukaku show. The Chelsea striker, on loan at Everton, scored two very similar goals to send his side to the locker room with a two-goal advantage. His first came in the 15th minute off the back of a terrible giveaway in midfield by Croatia's Ivan Perisic. He misplaced a pass, hitting it straight to Belgium's Steven Defour, and he quickly started the ball the other way. Lukaku ran onto his through ball past the Croatia defense, then rounded Stipe Pletikosa to set up an easy finish.

In the 38th minute, he struck again off another giveaway, though this goal required quite a bit more work on his part. Croatia botched an attempt at a creative set piece outside the Belgium box and were caught out of position when the ball was cleared forward towards Lukaku. He won the ball, then knocked it forward past the defense and used his pace to run onto it, then run over Pletikosa before scoring another tap-in.

Just before halftime, Thibaut Courtois made a big save by Mario Mandzukic, keeping a clean sheet for his team heading into halftime. After the break, Belgium backed off a bit and let Croatia have more of the ball, but the hosts struggled to challenge the Belgium goal until they found an 83rd-minute breakthrough. A couple of substitutes combined for it, with Nikola Kalinic getting on the end of a ball into the box, forcing a save and a clearance. Unfortunately for Belgium, they only got the ball as far as the edge of the box, where Niko Kranjcar was waiting to hit an impressive half-volley into the back of the net.

Croatia continued to push forward, but never found their equalizer, and must now settle for a playoff berth.

Croatia: Pletikosa, Vida, Corluka, Lovren, Strinic, Perisic (Kalinic 45'), Rakitic (Kranjcar 76'), Modric, Kovacic (Vukojevic 65'), Vrsaljko, Mandzukic

Goals: Kranjcar (83')

Belgium: Courtois, Vertonghen, van Buyten, Alderweireld, Lombaerts, Witsel, Defour (Dembele 84'), Fellaini, De Bruyne (Mirallas 65'), Hazard, Lukaku (Chadli 69')

Goals: Lukaku (15', 38')

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