Morocco, who defeated Canada 2-1 in the other group game which started simultaneously in Qatar, are the other team to book a last 16 spot from Group F.
FIFA World Cup Points Table
Morocco topped the group with seven points, followed by Croatia with five points. Belgium, with four points, and Canada, zero points, are the two teams from the group to be eliminated at this stage.
Belgium brought in Romelu Lukaku at the halftime break after a sedate first half, and the big striker made a good impact up front, even hitting Croatia’s post at the hour mark, but failed to convert all the chances that came to him. Croatia kept calm in the final minutes to hold off the Belgium attacks to progress in the tournament.
Croatia secure their place in the knockouts 🇭🇷@adidasfootball | #FIFAWorldCup
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Roberto Martinez’s side, ranked second in the world and semi-finalists four years ago, needed a win at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium to keep their hopes alive but could not break down the Croats.
Substitute Romelu Lukaku fluffed four golden chances to break the deadlock as Belgium cast off the shackles in the second half, although Croatia had their own opportunities to find a winner.
With so much riding on the outcome, the tension was evident from the early stages and the encounter became something of a tactical chess match, with both sides careful not to take any unnecessary risks.
There was however still some drama. Croatia were awarded a penalty in the 16th minute when Andrej Kramaric’s toe was clipped by Yannick Carrasco and referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot.
Belgium players react at the end of the game. (AP Photo)
Just as Luka Modric was preparing to take the kick, however, Taylor was instructed to view the VAR monitor, and swiftly reversed his decision after checking for an earlier offside.
The automated system in place flashed up an image on the stadium’s big screen that showed Croatia’s Kramaric had perhaps strayed the width of a shirt sleeve beyond the last man.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez rolled the dice at halftime, summoning Lukaku off the bench and the striker probably should have scored within minutes of coming on but his header at the far post was directed straight at goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Croatia were then foiled at the other end when Mateo Kovacic was played through following a powerful burst from centre back Josko Gvardiol but his shot was palmed over one-handed by Thibaut Courtois.
Marcelo Brozovic and Modric then stung the palms of Courtois, who got down low to his right to parry away both efforts.
It was then Belgium’s turn to pile on the pressure. First Yannick Carrasco stormed through on goal before his path was blocked and the ball found its way to Lukaku who somehow hit the post with the goal gaping.
He then inexplicably headed over from close range, although replays showed Kevin De Bruyne had probably taken the ball out of play before crossing.
Lukaku then missed two more chances from point-blank range in the dying minutes, diverting Thomas Meunier’s crisply-hit shot wide and then looking on bemused as the ball bounced up into his midriff with the goal at his mercy before it was somehow smuggled to safety.
Croatia will next play the winners of Group E, while Morocco will face the second-placed finishers of Group E. Belgium departed after winning just one of their three games.
(With inputs from agencies)