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Belgium march into finals with Croatia win

Croatia 1-2 Belgium
Marc Wilmots' men secured a place in Brazil as a pair of Romelu Lukaku strikes helped them decisively defeat their nearest Group A rivals.

Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring his second in Zagreb
Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring his second in Zagreb ©AFP/Getty Images

Belgium confirmed their place in next summer's Brazil showpiece as a pair of first-half Romelu Lukaku strikes secured the three points in Zagreb that sealed top spot in Group A.

Second-placed Croatia were the only side in the section who could topple Marc Wilmots's leaders from the summit and only victory at the Stadion Maksimir would have maintained those hopes. However, Lukaku scored twice before the break, meaning substitute Niko Kranjčar's late effort was nothing but a consolation for the hosts who now face the prospect of the play-offs.

With Belgium needing just a point to guarantee their FIFA World Cup finals ticket, Igor Štimac's men had no choice but to attack and Ivan Perišić almost gave them a great start, only to direct an Ivan Rakitić cross off target. The visitors wasted little time in punishing Croatia – in the 15th minute Steven Defour pounced on a loose Perišić pass to release Lukaku who rounded Stipe Pletikosa with ease and slotted in.

While the keeper prevented Marouane Fellaini doubling the lead, he could do nothing when the Everton FC goalscorer was sent clear once again, charging half the length of the field before slotting under the Croatia No1 in the 38th minute.

Štimac changed things at the break, sending on Nikola Kalinić who tested Thibaut Courtois shortly after his introduction, yet Belgium refused to give the home team a way back into the game. That was until the 83rd minute when Kranjčar drove in following Kalinić's saved effort. Even so, it proved too late to make a difference as Belgium rubber-stamped a first major championship appearance since 2002.