Belgium defeat Croatia 1-0 in what was a deserved win for the Red Devils in Brussels on Sunday. Played in front of quite a few fans at the Stade Roi Baudouinon, the game was the second warmup game for both the teams to kick off their Euro 2020 preparations in less than a weeks’ time.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) June 6, 2021
Croatia started off the game in a buoyant manner, with their front-foot approach earned them two corners in the first five minutes. But Belgium used this period to settle down and started to dictate the game since the 10th minute and did not let Croatia dominate them anymore.
As the game progressed Belgium started to hunt in packs, with Romelu Lukaku spearheading their attack and finding a lot of space due to high line that Croatia were maintaining with their defenders.
The perseverance eventually paid off when Lukaku found the back of the net in the 38th minute after Croatia failed to clear their lines, leaving the Inter Milan striker to put the ball inside the goal from a point-blank range. This was coming as moments earlier Lukaku and Yannick Carrasco hit the crossbar within seconds.
Lukaku celebrating after scoring the only goal for Belgium against Croatia on Sunday. (Image Courtesy: BBC / Website)
The second half was similar to the previous 45 minutes as Croatia were the brighter side for the five minutes which saw a shot from Bruno Petkovic’s goalbound shot being saved by Thibaut Courtois. Minutes later, Carrasco somehow missed an easy chance by blasting the ball above the crossbar.
While the game subsided after the 60th minute, it came to life again in the final minutes as there were two magnificent saves by both the goalkeepers, first a point-blank block by Livakovic from Lukaku in the 89th minute while Courtois was at full stretch to keep out substitute Josip Brekalo’s well-struck shot.
Here are three key takeaways from the fixture:
A GOOD NIGHT FOR MARTINEZ AND HIS MEN
With only two games as warm-ups before Belgium take the field against Russia on 12th June at the Krestovsky Stadium, manager Roberto Martinez needed to settle on a line-up that could do the job without having to rely on the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, who are facing fitness issues.
Martinez will take a lot of positives from this game. (Image Courtesy: FIFA / Website)
Martinez started the game with his usual 3-4-2-1 with Lukaku as the sole striker with Dries Mertens and Carrasco behind him as the inside forwards. Although, changes were made from the game against Greece, the system remained the same throughout.
And although it wasn’t a perfect performance from his men, Martinez will certainly take some positives out of the game. One of the biggest would be that the win showed that they can play on their own without the elder Hazard or the PFA Player of the Winner in the starting lineup.
WHERE WERE CROATIA’S FORWARDS?
Romelu Lukaku and Yannick Carrasco were the best players on the pitch for Belgium whereas, in contrast, the Croatian forwards offered nothing to their team in the game. They were toothless in attack, and that was evidently visible in the numbers as only three of the five attempted shots were on target and two of them were routine saves for Courtois in the goal for Belgium.
Ante Rebic and his fellow attackers were far from their best for Croatia on Sunday. (Image Courtesy: HNS Croatia / Twitter )
With a midfield of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic, one would expect to see an abundance of chances being created and certainly there were chances made by the midfield three, but the attackers were not at their best today.
Even the substitutes were not able to score that equaliser for Croatia, leading them to 1-0 defeat. Zlatko Dalic’s men can beat anyone on their day but for that to be consistent and regular, there has to be goals from their attackers and Croatia will know that the need to get a whole lot better.
CAN THE GOLDEN GENERATION DO IT?
Coming into the tournament, Belgium’s golden generation were seen as one of the favourites alongside France and Portugal to win the Euros. Their 3rd placed finish at the 2018 World Cup had people sway over their playstyle and performances.
But the tag was in jeopardy after the recent fitness struggles of their two main stars and pillars, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Hazard has had issues throughout the season while De Bruyne, who has had slight niggles during his time at Manchester City, presently has facial factures after his clash against Antonio Rudiger in the Champions League final.
De Bruyne on the floor after his clash with Rudiger in the Champions League final. (Image Courtesy: MARCA / Website)
Even though Hazard has made two appearances in the warmup games, both of them have been off the bench, primarily to give his groin and hamstring more time to recover. De Bruyne is certain to miss out on the first game against Russia on 12th but after the performances in the friendlies, Martinez might be less worried with regards to his squad.
Carrasco has been an able replacement for the Real Madrid attacker while Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens have taken up the responsibility to create for the Red Devils in place of the Manchester City midfielder.
In the recent games, Carrasco has portrayed himself as an able replacement for Eden Hazard for Belgium. (Image Courtesy: Belgium FA / Website)
But Belgium’s trump card will be Romelu Lukaku. The Inter Milan striker is in the form of his life and on Sunday, he was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch, creating havoc in the Croatian defence, while also linking up with his midfield to create chances.
Martinez will know the importance of the 28-year-old and for Belgium to triumph at the end of the tournament, they need him to be at his absolute best.