Oct 11, 2013, 1:56 PM EST
Belgium only needed a draw to clinch their spot in the 2014 World Cup. Instead, they took no chances, with Romelu Lukaku scoring two before the halftime whistle. Croatia managed to pull one back in the 83rd minute, but with less than ten minutes left to play, getting two more proved too much. Now, with one game still left to play, the victory in Zagreb solidifies the standings of Group A, putting Belgium in Brazil and Croatia into the playoff round.
Belgium’s first goal, just fifteen minutes into the match, was almost too easy. Ivan Peresic executed a fine pass in midfield — unfortunately for the Croatian, it was a pass directly to Belgian midfielder Steven Defour. Defour quickly sent the ball on to Lukaku, who easily outstripped the Croatian defense. Stipe Pletikosa came out to try and stop the forward, but Lukaku neatly rounded the goalkeeper to put the ball in the back of the net. From the noise that ensued, you’d have thought it was Belgium playing at home rather than Croatia.
Lukaku’s second, too, was just as easy. A free kick to the home side came to absolutely nothing, with Belgium quickly regaining possession in their own half. A few neat passes got the ball to Lukaku in midfield. Again, he simply outran the Croatian defenders, leaving Mateo Kovecic panting in his wake. Again, Pletikosa came out to save, but was unable to smother the ball. Unimpeded, Lukaku simply took the ball again and tapped into an empty net.
Igor Stimac made a couple wise substitutions in the second half, choices so good you almost wondered why, exactly, the players hadn’t been handed starts. Nikola Kalinic came on for the disgraced Peresic to start the second half, Ogejen Vukojevic took the place of Kovacic for the final 25 minutes, and Niko Kranjcar took over for Ivan Rakitic ten minutes later. The substitutes certainly made a difference, but it was too little, too late.
Croatia’s goal didn’t come until the 83rd minute. Domagoj Vida, racing up the right, sent in a lovely cross. It was Kalinic that got in the first shot, but young Thibaut Courtois managed to save. A Belgian defender knocked away the ball, but it fell to Kranjcar, who caught it on the volley to knock in the goal.
Croatia: Pletikosa; Lovren, Corluka, Vida; Strinic, Kovacic (Vukojevic 65), Modric, Vrsaljko; Rakitic (Kranjcar 76), Perisic (Kalinic 46); Mandzukic
Goals: Kranjcar 83′
Belgium: Courtois; Vertonghen, Lombaerts, Van Buyten, Alderweireld; Defour (Dembélé 84), Witsel; De Bruyne (Mirallas 65), Fellaini, Hazard; Lukaku (Chadli 69)
Goals: Lukaku 15′, 38′
Dec 7, 2013, 11:05 PM EST
We’ll know in the next few days:
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 PM EST
Can the Gunners stretch their lead at the summit? Will Fulham stop the rot? Both games live on NBCSN:
Dec 7, 2013, 10:00 PM EST
Experience was key early, set pieces came back to haunt them, and nobody will remember how you lost.
Dec 7, 2013, 9:28 PM EST
A few take-aways from Sporting Kansas City’s side on the clubs’ MLS Cup triumph Saturday over Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park:
Dec 7, 2013, 9:01 PM EST
Both coaches said so after Saturday’s exciting match:
Dec 7, 2013, 8:35 PM EST
Sporting Kansas City’s center back scored a goal in the run of play and then nailed a beauty of a penalty kick:
Dec 7, 2013, 7:45 PM EST
Round-by-round as Sporting Kansas City wins MLS Cup 2013 in a 10-round penalty kick tiebreaker.
Dec 7, 2013, 7:35 PM EST
KANSAS CITY – After 10 rounds of penalty kicks, Major League Soccer has a 2013 champion.
Dec 7, 2013, 6:22 PM EST
NBC’s Arlo White and Graeme Le Saux break down Manchester City’s tie with Southampton on Saturday:
Dec 7, 2013, 5:19 PM EST
What a huge days for the Potters; hear what the club’s U.S. international right back has to say about it:
Dec 7, 2013, 4:20 PM EST
Obviously, this is also the coldest kickoff for an MLS championship match … by a long, long way, in fact:
Dec 7, 2013, 3:40 PM EST
RSL’s two injury doubts are ready, while Sporting rolls with the XI that got them to MLS Cup 2013.
Dec 7, 2013, 3:05 PM EST
Looking at how today’s match might play out from the visitors side:
Dec 7, 2013, 3:05 PM EST
Bayern stay four points above Bayern Leverkusen, who are now six above Dortmund in the Bundesliga table.
MLS Cup preview: Real Salt Lake meets Sporting Kansas City to decide Major League Soccer’s 18th championship
Dec 7, 2013, 3:00 PM EST
Two well-regarded American coaches, two super defenses and record cold temperatures are the dominant sub-plots:
Dec 7, 2013, 2:47 PM EST
Shocks results steal the limelight but there’s also big wins for Palace, Spurs and Liverpool in a busy day of action:
Dec 7, 2013, 2:27 PM EST
Spurs put in dominant display as AVB’s men continue their resurgence by slaying bottom club Sunderland:
Dec 7, 2013, 2:13 PM EST
FIFA have changed the times of six World Cup fixtures, including the scheduled kickoff time for USA – Portugal.
Dec 7, 2013, 1:19 PM EST
After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Liverpool, Sam Allardyce appeared frustrated. So, too, are many of West Ham’s fans.
Dec 7, 2013, 12:51 PM EST
After yet another poor defensive display, Mourinho is worried about the defensive solidity of his Chelsea side:
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