The Fifa side ranked second and third in Russia four years ago were ousted ahead of the knockout stages on Thursday, unable to break a stalemate with Croatia, who moved up to second in Group F after Morocco win on Canada.
It was a significant failure from the much-loved and always high-profile Belgium, who once again struggled to turn their litany of individual star talents into a cohesive and effective team unit.
Such a mess is likely to herald a transition away from the Red Devils’ so-called ‘golden generation’, while head coach Roberto Martinez has already announced he will step down after six years in charge.
One prominent member of that golden generation who failed to hand Belgium a major trophy despite their sparkling array of players is Lukaku, who will be sure to regret his part in their goal-scoring failure against Croatia that would have saved their World Cup campaign.
Introduced as a half-time substitute for Dries Mertens, Chelsea’s Inter Milan loanee fended off a handful of golden chances to break the deadlock in the second half, hitting the woodwork and firing at the both wide and straight on Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
It raised further questions about Lukaku’s fitness, with Belgium’s all-time top scorer and sixth-most capped player having arrived at the World Cup with a thigh injury and missing out on the undeserved victory against Canada before being limited to a late appearance on the bench. in the decisive defeat against Morocco.
It also continued a difficult career for the 29-year-old, who was sent back on loan to Inter just a year after returning to Chelsea in a club-record £97.5million transfer in the summer 2021.
Lukaku has managed just five appearances at club level so far this season amid his fitness struggles, scoring twice under Simone Inzaghi.
And the former Manchester United leader couldn’t hide his anger after Belgium’s humiliating World Cup exit, breaking down in tears in heartbreaking scenes and being consoled by members of the coaching staff, including assistant Thierry Henry.
TV cameras then captured a distraught Lukaku smashing the dugout window with a punch before heading into the tunnel.
Watch footage of Lukaku’s angry reaction to Belgium’s early World Cup exit above.