A giant fell as Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ left this World Cup with a whimper.
It was a game between the runner-up and the third-placed team from 2018 and only one could go through as Morocco, playing Canada in the other game, was in no charitable mood.
Belgium needed this win more but Roberto Martinez benched his captain Eden Hazard, playing Leandro Trossard as his No. 9 with Romelu Lukaku, again, starting on the bench.
Its attacking threat was almost non-existent as Croatia came out buzzing, looking for that early goal.
Ivan Perisic, the hyperactive Duracell man, almost gave it the lead from kick-off, his shot just a little wayward from a bouncing Luka Modric through ball.
The Red Devils did show some spine with Yannick Carrasco leading the fightback from the left with some nimble footwork.
An opportunity soon came his way in the 10th minute, but he blasted it into orbit after a cutback from right eluded everyone and reached him on the other side.
For the first time in this World Cup, for a fleeting few seconds, Kevin De Bruyne looked like the player he is for Manchester City as his bulldozing straight run swatted opponents to the side.
His final pass came to Dries Mertens inside the box, but this chance, too, was wasted as the all time top-scorer for Napoli curled it high and wide.
Croatia had a penalty in the 15th minute as Carrasco caught Andrej Kramarić with a lazy tackle inside the box, but it was disallowed as VAR asked referee Anthony Taylor to check his decision on the pitch-side monitor.
Dejan Lovren was penalised for a wafer-thin offside in the lead-up and a dejected Modric trudged back from the penalty spot.
With Morocco already 2-0 up (final score 2-1), the closeted African fans in the crowd cheered on, and panic was setting in on the Belgium ranks.
Leander Dendoncker again found Mertens with a pass from the bylines, but Hazard’s replacement’s touch in front of the goal was as hilarious and harmless as a toddler’s attempted kick and no damage was done.
Lukaku was finally on the pitch as the other half started and Belgium was throwing in the kitchen sink in search of that goal. But it was Thibaut Courtois who made a smart one-handed save in the 50th minute to deny Mateo Kovacic.
Lukaku then left the post shaking with a first-time shot at the hour mark after Carrasco’s blocked effort had set him up.
The target-man missed again as a Thomas Munier kick came his way much to his surprise and again in the end Lukaku could just chest it to a thankful Dominik Livakovic in the Croatian goal.
The Belgians coaxed their creaking bones to rediscover the magic of the old, but the tiring body was not in sync with the mind and the last hurrah never arrived.
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