Belgium failed to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup for just the second time in eight appearances as they drew 0-0 to Croatia and it is some question as to how the affair ended goalless.
Belgium have ridden their luck a few times during this tournament and yesterday was no different as a penalty awarded by the referee to Croatia was ruled out after VAR controversially deemed an offside in the build-up.
The penalty had been awarded after Yannick Carrassco lost control of the ball in his own box and caught the inform Andrej Kramaric just 15-minutes into the tense contest.
It was a poor first-half from both sides but with Morocco comfortably beating Canada, both teams really needed to up their game with a victory ensuring qualification for either side.
Belgium will certainly rue their missed chances in this one, especially when you consider who those chances fell to.
Yannick Carrassco danced through the Croatian defence after a sublime ball from De Bruyne but the goalkeeper was quick to smother the Belgium’s shot into the path of Romelu Lukaku.Embed from Getty Images
Substitute and the all-time Belgium top scorer Lukaku latched onto the loose ball but his effort cannoned off the inside of the post to keep the score level.
Minutes later, Lukaku was once again met with an open net after meeting De Bryune’s lofted cross but he blazed the header over the bar.
It only got worse for the Inter Milan striker.
Thomas Meunier played the ball across to Lukaku who stabbed widely sending it wide and just seconds from the 90-minute mark he was unable to produce a shot from a subline cross from Thorgan Hazard as he found himself free at the near post.
The ball instead bounced off his chest into the grateful arms of the Croatian keeper.
The Belgium talisman was left in tears at the final whistle, so frustrated that he punched through the plastic windows of the dugout.
Belgium only needed one goal to go through.
His frustration summed up a miserable campaign for a disjointed Belgium side, manager Roberto Martinez parted ways with the Red Devils soon after the final whistle.
Say what you want about Belgium’s performances on the pitch, they were awful, but how they conducted themselves off the pitch was arguably worse.
Could Belgium’s mentality and behaviour off the pitch be the reasoning behind their poor World Cup campaign?
It’s hard to say no, especially when you consider the actions of star man Kevin De Bruyne.
He registered zero assists and zero goals, created few key chances and was relatively unseen throughout the three group stage matches.
But that’s not what he’s being criticised for.
“No chance, we’re too old”, that’s what De Bruyne said when asked by the Guardian if Belgium can win the World Cup.
This was on the 26th of November, just days after their shameful performance against Canada and a day before their shock loss to Morocco.
The same day, his teammate Eden Hazard said this: “Belgium have the best goalkeeper in the world, the best midfielder in the world and good forwards. If I feel good Belgium can win the World Cup.”
While some may respect De Bruyne’s brutal honesty compared to that of his Belgium teammate, from a football point of view Belgium were out of the World Cup as soon as he uttered these words,
What sort of mentality is that?
Luka Modric, 37, Cristiano Rolando, 37, Lionel Messi, 35, Thiago Silva, 38, they have made no such comments and continue to perform incredibly for their national sides despite their age.
While not the designated captain of Belgium, captaining just one of the three group stage games, it would be foolish to think he is not the focal point of the squad.
You can guarantee every single player both young and old look to Manchester City’s creative midfielder not just to create chances and score goals but to lead the squad and set the mentality.
When already questions are being asked as to whether the golden generation is past its sell by date, when already you have proved them right with a lethargic performance against Canada, what sort of message does that send out to staff, players and fans of your nation?Embed from Getty Images
In contrast Jan Vertonghen, 35, struck out at ageist comments, he said: “We probably also attack badly because we are too old, right? It will always be something like that. I felt we were in a good position,” following their loss to Morocco.
In a time like this, when its your side against the world, you need unity, you need togetherness.
Belgium had none of this and once again De Bruyne was at the heart of it.
RTL info reported: “The harmony in the Belgian squad is completely broken.
“Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne no longer speak to each other. And it’s the same for Eden Hazard with Leandro Trossard and Romelu Lukaku with Michy Batshuayi.”
In a squad full of such experienced players, you would expect a bit more professionalism and unity, its not as if these players have not played together before.
Belgium’s mentality lost them the World Cup. They gave into the claims that their squad were too old to compete and whimpered out of the group stages practically just a game in.
Is that all down to Kevin De Bruyne? It would be harsh thought.
De Bruyne isn’t the designated captain of the squad and where was the manager in all this?
Should Martinez take some of the blame for the loss of harmony within the squad?Embed from Getty Images
Those five words, “No chance, were too old”, uttered a game into your World Cup run are simply unforgivable.
Arguably it has cost Belgium, their fans and its golden generation a chance for World Cup glory.