Croatia 1-2 BELGIUM | World Cup 2014 qualifying Group A | 2013/10/11
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Belgium reach 2014 World Cup after Lukaku inspires win over Croatia
Everton's Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium reached their first World Cup finals since 2002. The on-loan striker put away two excellent individual goals in the first half to earn a 2-1 victory in Croatia.
The result means the Group A leaders, Belgium, are uncatchable with 25 points from nine matches before their final qualifying game at home to Wales on Tuesday.
Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, had several thousand Belgian fans dancing on the half-empty terraces at the Maksimir stadium after scoring in the 15th and 38th minutes.
The second-half substitute Niko Kranjcar grabbed a late goal for the Croatians, who have 17 points and are assured of a runners-up finish, but were jeered by their fans after a lacklustre performance.
Croatia needed a win to have any chance of overhauling Belgium but their coach, the former Derby County defender Igor Stimac, deployed a conservative 4-5-1 formation with the wingers Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic operating behind the lone striker Mario Mandzukic.
The visitors took the lead after Perisic gave the ball away and Steven Defour fed Lukaku, who raced clear of the centre-backs, Vedran Corluka and Dejan Lovren, before rounding the goalkeeper, Stipe Pletikosa.
Pletikosa then kept out a close-range header from Marouane Fellaini but could not prevent Lukaku scoring a dazzling second goal.
Having superbly dinked the ball over Lovren inside his own half, the 20-year-old galloped past Mateo Kovacic, rounded the advancing Pletikosa and walked the ball into the net as bewildered home fans started leaving the ground in droves.
Belgium almost scored a third goal in the 77th minute when Pletikosa denied Fellaini from three metres after a darting run and cross by Eden Hazard.
Kranjcar pulled one back for Croatia by volleying a fierce shot into the roof of the net from 14 metres after Thibaut Courtois parried a close-range effort by Nikola Kalinic and Daniel van Buyten could only partially clear the rebound.
BELGIUM NATIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM
GK Thibaut Courtois (age 21) Atlético Madrid
GK Simon Mignolet (age 25) Liverpool
GK Koen Casteels (age 21) Hoffenheim
DF Toby Alderweireld (age 24) Atlético Madrid
DF Daniel Van Buyten (age 35) Bayern Munich
DF Nicolas Lombaerts (age 28) Zenit Saint Petersburg
DF Jan Vertonghen (age 26) Tottenham Hotspur
DF Laurent Ciman (age 28) Standard Liège
DF Sébastien Pocognoli (age 26) Hannover 96
DF Guillaume Gillet (age 29) Anderlecht
DF Jelle Van Damme (age 29) Standard Liège
MF Axel Witsel (age 24) Zenit Saint Petersburg
MF Kevin De Bruyne (age 22) Chelsea
MF Marouane Fellaini (age 25) Manchester United
MF Steven Defour (age 25) Porto
MF Mousa Dembélé (age 26) Tottenham Hotspur
MF Nacer Chadli (age 23) Tottenham Hotspur
MF Timmy Simons (age 36) Club Brugge
MF Eden Hazard (age 22) Chelsea
FW Christian Benteke (age 22) Aston Villa
FW Kevin Mirallas (age 25) Everton
FW Dries Mertens (age 26) Napoli
FW Romelu Lukaku (age 20) Everton
FW Zakaria Bakkali (age 17) PSV