Jakarta (ANTARA) – When Belgium, now ranked second in the world, were beaten by France in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, there were complaints that they were a better team filled with a golden generation of players in the country.
Belgium feel they have been robbed of their place in the final this time around, against Croatia, who will be their opponents in the last game of Group F of the 2022 World Cup.
Belgium had the chance to show what is possible against Croatia in a Group F encounter which may lack prestige but is still a hugely important game for both teams.
Croatia lead Group F on four points, level with Morocco and one point ahead of Belgium on three, while hopes for bottom team Canada have been dashed.
Belgium, ranked second in the world, must prevail to secure their place in the round of 16, while Croatia, 2018 world runners-up, need just one point to secure a place in the round of 16 .
Roberto Martinez’s side were one of the hardest-hit favorites after a narrow win over Canada but lost 2-0 at the hands of Morocco, fueling speculation that Belgium’s golden generation was over.
Even playmaker Kevin De Bruyne called his squad at the 2022 World Cup ‘too old’ to take part in this tournament.
In fact, if age is the benchmark, it’s Iran that deserves to be called old because they’re bolstered by older players.
The Belgian team’s biggest problem isn’t the age of the players, but rather the string of injuries to its key players, including prolific striker Romelu Lukaku.
Injuries have also prevented Eden Hazard from playing for Real Madrid this season which has affected his performances at the World Cup in Qatar so far.
Martinez himself emphasized the psychological aspect rather than the physical aspect. “We have to stay together and get stronger. We are ready to face Croatia,” Martinez said as quoted by Reuters.
Croatia themselves had a poor showing against Morocco, although the goalless draw provided a good platform against Canada which they then beat 4-1.
However, the question arises whether Croatia can be as productive against Canada or even brutal against Morocco. Andrej Kramaric has rendered this question irrelevant as Croatia’s attack still has the upper hand.
A draw is actually enough for Croatia, but coach Zlatko Dalic is not interested in such a scenario.
“We must not accept the option of only getting one point to finish the game against Belgium,” Dalic said. “Belgium must win but we also aim to win.”
Predict the first eleven players
Croatia (4-3-3): Dominik Livakovic; Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa; Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic; Andrej Kramaric, Marko Livaja, Ivan Perisic
Belgium (3-4-2-1): Thibaut Courtois; Timothy Castagne, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen; Tomas Meunier, Youri Tielemans, Axel Witsel, Yannick Carrasco; Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard; Michy Batshuayi
Croatia implemented a more defensive pattern of play than Belgium as they only needed a draw to qualify for the round of 16, apart from Belgium being the toughest opponents of Croatia in group F.
On the other hand, Belgium will attack and press from the start of the game so they can score goals quickly to keep the momentum going in winning this game.
Indeed, only a win will qualify Belgium for the knockout round, as a draw won’t help them even if Canada can beat Morocco in another Group F final game.
Here, it is clear that Belgium is the party most under pressure. But Belgium have star players who can reverse all the math.
The problem is that this game is also the toughest game for Belgium given that Croatia are known to be tough and tough as evidenced by their first two group stage matches.
Because in the previous game they swallowed Canada 4-1, then-coach Zlatko Dalic has no reason to change the formation of the players who presented a very convincing victory.
Dalic will use a 4-3-3 formation which has so far provided Croatia with comfort in controlling games and dictating opponents so they don’t have many chances to attack them.
With this in mind, Dalic again placed the defensive quartet of Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol and Borna Sosa to protect goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic as closely as possible from the possibility of a wave of Belgian attacks which could this times involve Romelu Lukaku.
Dalic also continues to install Luka Modric as a mainstay in midfield who, along with Mateo Kovacic, will be more oriented towards assisting in attack, while Marcelo Brozovic is more tasked with fixing the defence.
On the front line, Marko Livaja is likely to be picked as a starter to accompany Andrej Kramaric and Ivan Perisic as a trident striker, who so far has scored four goals, all of which came in the match against Canada.
Meanwhile, from the Belgian side, coach Roberto Martinez was forced to make at least one squad change as midfielder Amadou Onana was out through suspension.
Meanwhile, Youri Tielemans can be included to accompany Axel Witsel as a midfield duo in the pivot of the game, which is important to maintain the balance of the game and at the same time be the pivot to launch attacks.
The final third of the pitch itself is the responsibility of the murderous trio, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Michy Batshuayi. The latter is said to act as the spearhead that could inspire Croatia to open up space at the back for de Bruyne and Hazard to come in.
Michy Batshuayi is still Belgium’s first choice in attack as so far Romelu Lukaku is still not fully recovered from a hamstring injury, even though he was involved on the bench against Morocco .
Meanwhile at the back, Timothy Castagne will continue his partnership with experienced centre-back duo Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, to protect goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as he prepares to make his 100th cap for Belgium.
Important stats for both teams
The two teams have met eight times since 2000 where both teams recorded three wins each. Their last meeting last June was won by Belgium 1-0.
But this is their first meeting in a World Cup final match.
Croatia only needed a draw to qualify for the last 16, while a draw for Belgium also sent them to the round of 16 but on the condition that Canada beat Morocco. If they win, Belgium will top Group F.
So far, Michy Batshuayi is the only Belgian player to score a goal at the 2022 World Cup.
The 4-1 win over Canada was the second time Poland had scored four goals in a World Cup game after beating Cameroon 4-0 at the 2014 World Cup.
Croatia reached the semi-finals on their World Cup final debut in 1998. They appeared in the 2018 final but beat France 2-4
When they reached the 2018 final, Croatia became the first World Cup side to win again after conceding first place in all three of their group stage matches.
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