Belgium could have one foot into the knockout stages with a win over Morocco, who need to kick-start their campaign in Qatar.

A below-par Belgium side scrapped through the finishing line against an intense Canadian side in their opening game at the World Cup. Michy Batshuayi’s solitary strike at the stroke of half was enough to secure the three points. Much of the credit for the win should go to Thibaut Courtois for saving a first-half penalty.

Questions about this Belgian team persisted after an underwhelming performance. They were second-best to Canada. Roberto Martinez will want a good response from his team. The Red Devils need to make a statement ahead of the knockout phases, where they will face tougher opposition.

Belgium needs a victory against Morocco to have one foot into the knockout stages and will not want to go into the final group game against Croatia needing a win. The Red Devils have the upper hand owing to the draw in the other Group F fixture, as their destiny is in their own hands.

Morocco will take confidence from their performance against World Cup finalists Croatia in the first group game. While the clash had no goals, the Atlas Lions celebrated the result as a victory. It was a big hurdle in their quest to qualify for the next round.

A positive outcome against Belgium will open up the group thoroughly as the race for the next round will intensify. Morocco is one of the goal-shy teams in this tournament, having failed to score in more than half of their games at the World Cup to date.

They will hope for a positive result against Belgium and dream of a draw for Croatia and Canada in the other group fixture. However, the Red Devils are the favourites despite their dismal opening game performance, which makes this clash a thoroughly interesting one.

Team News & Tactics

Belgium

Romelu Lukaku faces a race against time to prove his fitness to feature against Morocco. In all likelihood, the Inter Milan striker may be out of contention, as it was earlier reported he would miss at least two games in Qatar.

Match-winner Michy Batshuayi will continue to lead the line in the absence of Lukaku, while the other members of the team could retain their places. While the whole system under Robert Martinez failed to gel together in the first game, there were few notable chance creations.

Martinez will continue with his system and have Leander Dendoncker as part of the back three alongside Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Timothy Castagne and Yannick Carrasco will continue as wing-backs.

Though other options exist, Martinez will keep the midfield pairing of Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans intact. The disappointing form of Eden Hazard continues, but he will remain in the lineup and lead his team in the second game alongside Kevin De Bruyne.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Dendoncker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Castagne, Tielemans, Witsel, Carrasco; Hazard, De Bruyne; Batshuayi

Morocco

Noussair Mazraoui got stretchered off against Croatia and is a major doubt for the Belgium clash. While he will prove a huge blow for Morocco, reports suggest he could shrug off the problem and feature. It is safe to assume the full-back is out of contention.

Yahya Attiyat Allah is the most likely replacement in his place, although Morocco will hope to have Mazraoui back. Other than that, the team will remain the same as it was against Croatia.

Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd will complete the backline alongside Achraf Hakimi at right-back. Sofyan Amrabat and Azzedine Ounahi will form the central midfield partnership.

Selim Amallah, Sofiane Boufal, and Hakim Ziyech will form the attacking lineup behind striker Youssef En-Nesryi. It is the best-attacking unit Morocco have now, and will hope to get a result against Belgium.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Bono; Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, Attiyat-Allah; Amrabat, Ounahi; Amallah, Boufal, Ziyech; En-Nesyri

Key Stats

  • Belgium have won seven of their last eight matches in the FIFA World Cup.
  • Belgium have won three and lost two of their last six international games in all competitions.
  • Belgium and Morocco last met in the FIFA World Cup during USA 1994.
  • Morocco have failed to score in nine of their 17 FIFA World Cup games.
  • Morocco have failed to win ten of their last 11 matches in the FIFA World Cup.

Player to Watch

Kevin De Bruyne

The Manchester City playmaker was bizarrely handed the man of the match award from the win over Canada, despite it being one of his worst performances. Belgium were abysmal overall, and De Bruyne’s influence waned during the game, and he looked frustrated.

The overall quality around him also makes a big difference considering he is usually surrounded by world-class talent at Manchester City. There is barely any time to dwell, and De Bruyne needs to start becoming the heartbeat of this team’s attack and produce a performance that will take Belgium into the next round.

Prediction

Belgium 1-0 Morocco

Morocco may have the tools to contain a top team, but they face problems creating chances and scoring them. The problem was evident during their draw with Croatia, and the trend is likely to continue. In turn, they will form a solid defensive unit and stifle Belgium more than the Canadians.

Belgium face problems creating chances, but the presence of clinical players up front could prove vital for Roberto Martinez. Kevin De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi will have to dig deep and find a goal or two, hoping their backline keeps it tight against the Atlas Lions. In the end, the Red Devils could secure another narrow win in their second game.

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