Belgium have no margin for error after their Morocco shocker and head into their final Group F game against Croatia with their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread.

Croatia and Belgium will square off at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium on Thursday, with both teams needing a result to confirm their qualification to the knockout stages.

Group F is perfectly poised for the final matchday. Canada are already out of the running but will want to earn their first World Cup points when they face Morocco, who, along with Croatia and Belgium are competing for the two slots in the next stage.

A win or a draw will send Luka Modric and company to the Last 16, and the same goes for Morocco. As for Belgium, it is a win-or-go-home situation, meaning securing a draw would not suffice after losing to Morocco.

Meanwhile, Croatia’s much-anticipated opener against Morocco was lacklustre, to say the least, as the 2018 World Cup finalists were unable to break down their stubborn opponents, playing out a scoreless draw.

They were put on the back foot early in the game against Canada after falling behind to Alphonso Davies’s second-minute header. But the Vatreni rolled up their sleeves to thump Les Rouges 4-1 and showed why they deserve more respect in this tournament.

On the other hand, second-ranked Belgium have not lived up to their status or ranking in this year’s tournament. As if the disappointing and gutless display in the deserved 2-0 defeat at the hands of minnows Morocco was not enough, there have been rumours of a rift within the squad.

Jan Vertonghen, 35, reacted to Kevin De Bruyne’s comments about Roberto Martinez’s ‘ageing’ squad in his post-match interview by hinting at Belgium’s ineffective attack. Subsequent reports have claimed the pair had to be separated in the locker room as tensions boiled.

While skipper Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois have come out to deny any altercations, the former himself remarked the Belgium defenders in the team were “old and slow.” It is safe to say there is a lot of friction and nervousness among the members of the squad, which is not ideal heading into the tie against Croatia.

Team News & Tactics


Andrej Kramaric was a man on a mission against Canada, bagging a brace before being substituted midway through the second half when he surely would have backed himself for a hat-trick.

He will play off of central striker Marko Livaja, who replaced Nikola Vlasic ahead of the win over Canada and will spearhead the attack for Croatia against Belgium. Ivan Perisic ought to be the wide man once again, providing the forwards with delightful service from the flanks. Manager Zlatko Dalic will set his side up in a 4-3-3 system and could name an unchanged eleven.

The Vatreni’s true strength and quality lie in the midfield, where Marcelo Brozovic will sit alongside captain Luka Modric in the middle of the park, controlling the tempo of the game. In addition, Mateo Kovacic will have the freedom to foray forward and act as an attacking midfielder.

At the back, Dejan Lovren ought to pair up with highly coveted 20-year-old defender Josko Gvardiol, who is turning heads at many elite-bracket European clubs with his commanding displays for both club and country.

Josip Juranovic will take up the right-back slot, with attacking full-back Borna Sosa starting on the left side of Croatia’s defence. Finally, Dominik Livakovic will take his place between the sticks against Belgium.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Kramaric, Livaja, Perisic


Roberto Martinez was under a bit of pressure heading into the World Cup, and Belgium’s dire display against Morocco will have done little to silence the critics. The Red Devils came into the competition as the favourites to win their group. And while they were victorious on day one, they struggled in their triumph over Canada before collapsing against Morocco, and now find themselves in a make-or-break scenario.

Martinez will probably be inclined to revert to a 3-4-2-1 formation after the failed experiment with 4-2-3-1 against Morocco and might make a handful of changes to his starting eleven for this game.

There is no looking past Thibaut Courtois between the sticks for Belgium. And Martinez could opt for a back three of Timothy Castagne, Jan Vertonghen, and Toby Alderweireld for this game. The defensive trio needs to be on their toes and work collectively to keep the dynamic Croatian attackers at bay here.

Belgium’s midfield will be led by Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans as they try to seize control of the game in the middle of the pitch. Yannick Carrasco will play as the left-sided wing-back, while Thomas Meunier will try to make an impression on the right flank. Both will be granted permission to make overlapping runs to offer width.

With rumours that Romelu Lukaku was required to break up a dressing room scuffle between Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, it will be intriguing to watch whether Martinez plays both players in this vital encounter. Martinez does have other choices, like Jeremy Doku, Luis Openda, and Leandro Trossard, who have been underutilised at this tournament.

Romelu Lukaku, Belgium’s all-time leading scorer, might make his first start at this year’s World Cup after coming on as a substitute against Morocco. The 29-year-old has 68 goals in 103 Red Devils appearances and will look to get his team over the line, replacing Michy Batshuayi up top.

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

Key Stats

  • This is the first meeting between Croatia and Belgium at the FIFA World Cup.
  • Croatia have only lost two of their 10 clashes against fellow European nations in the competition (W6 D2), with both of those defeats coming against France (1998 semi-final, 2018 final).
  • Belgium have come out on top in their last two meetings with Croatia across all competitions, with Romelu Lukaku netting all three of their goals across both wins.
  • Belgium have netted in three of their five most recent games but produced only one clean sheet during that period.
  • Zlatko Dalic’s team have lost just once in their last 18 outings.

Player to Watch

Kevin De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne is undoubtedly one of the world’s best midfielders and has produced some stunning displays for Belgium, amassing 25 goals and 46 assists in 94 appearances for the Red Devils. The Manchester City playmaker is known for providing world-class assists and service for his attackers.

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He has been in fine form this season at the club level, having already provided 13 assists in 19 games for Manchester City across all competitions. However, he would be the first to admit that he has not performed at his peak levels at the World Cup yet.

To be fair, De Bruyne has not been helped by the underperforming and rusty supporting cast around him. But Belgium need some big match-deciding displays from him if they are to go deep in this tournament.


Croatia 1-1 Belgium

After their uninspiring opening-day draw against Morocco, Croatia burst to life in the tournament, perhaps somewhat motivated by Canadian coach John Herdman’s fiery pre-match comments. And they now appear to be chomping at the bit to take down anyone, brimming with class and vast top-level experience among their ranks.

When put under early pressure by Canada, Croatia did not panic and eventually rolled over to the American side. This feels like a knockout game for Belgium, which plays into Croatia’s hands. The Hard Tackle backs them to pounce on any Red Devils’ nerves and desperation and should be able to earn a worthy point to secure their progression. Meanwhile, Roberto Martinez’s side will be packing their bags and heading home.

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