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Courtois and Hazard are coming home early as Belgium’s nightmare campaign is over

After finishing third overall in 2018, Belgium only finish third in Group F this time. 

Croatia v Belgium: Group F - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Kevin de Bruyne was right. Maybe calling your colleagues “too old” and labelling your team as “outsiders” isn’t the right way to go about expressing your pre-tournament sensations, but De Bruyne was, ultimately, correct in his assessment of Belgium’s chances in Qatar. They were not able to repeat the heroics of Russia 2018, when the Red Devils finished third overall. This time, amid regular reports of dressing room bust-ups, they could only finish third in their group, behind Morocco and Croatia, who eliminated them with a 0-0 draw on Thursday.

Belgium were lucky to even have three points coming into this final group game. They were the second-best side against Canada, but snuck a 1-0 win thanks to a Thibaut Courtois penalty save and a Michy Batshuayi thunderbolt. Then, they were deservedly beaten 2-0 by Morocco in the middle fixture. That left Belgium basically needing a win against Luka Modrić’s Croatia, and they were not able to achieve that.

Just seven minutes for Eden Hazard

We thought this decisive match would start with Eden Hazard and Luka Modrić meeting at the halfway line as the two captains of their squads, but the former was dropped by Roberto Martínez for this crunch clash. That came as a bit of a shock as Hazard had been playing fairly well, but he certainly wasn’t doing anything to make him undroppable and so he had to watch on from the bench at the start of the match.

That left Real Madrid fans looking at Modrić vs Courtois, who was making his 100th appearance for Belgium in this game. And, in the 17th minute, we thought we were going to see the midfielder take a penalty against his club teammate. However, VAR intervened to overturn the penalty call for the most marginal of offsides in the build-up.

We got to see the close-ups of Modrić and of Courtois, with the former not even daring to look the later in the eyes, but that potentially epic moment was then taken away from us. It remained 0-0 and we reached half-time with zero shots on target for either side.

After the break, Croatia stepped it up. They were dominant in every area of the pitch, as Joško Gvardiol commanded his penalty area, the midfield trio of Modrić, Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić were flying and the full-backs got forward in attack time and time again. There was some poor decision-making in the final third from Croatia, but they still managed to get off several shots and Courtois had to make four solid saves in the second half. He was absolutely the best Belgian player of this World Cup.

At the other end, Belgium eventually did start to create chances of their own. Romelu Lukaku had been sent on at half-time, but the problem was that he couldn’t take any of the chances created for him, missing three absolute sitters and failing to score off an individual xG of 1.67.

Eden Hazard was then introduced for the final three minutes of the 90, plus the four minutes of stoppage time, but that was far too little time for him to make any impact. It was only enough time for him to have three touches of the ball, none of them memorable.

Courtois and Hazard: The first Real Madrid players eliminated

There were 14 Real Madrid players selected by their national teams for this World Cup and 12 of them are either already mathematically through to the knockouts or still have a chance to make it. Courtois and Hazard, however, are the first Madridistas to make their way to Doha airport.

For Real Madrid, maybe this is good news. Carlo Ancelotti has previously suggested that those who go deep in the World Cup might not be able to return to club action until mid-to-late January, and goalkeeper is obviously one position at Real Madrid where there is a major dropoff between the starter and the backup. Courtois going out this early should now make him available for the first LaLiga game back, away at Real Valladolid on December 30th.

For now, though, that’ll be the last thing on his or Eden Hazard’s mind. Right now, they’ll just want to escape the toxic Belgian dressing room and enjoy a mini holiday.

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