(MENAFN- The Peninsula)
#qatar 2022 #world cup teams Reuters
Doha: When Belgium were beaten by France in their 2018 World Cup semi-final there was some grumbling that the better team had lost and the so-called 'golden generation' had been robbed of their place in the final against Croatia.
Fast-forward four years and Belgium will get the chance to show what might have been against the Croats in a Group F encounter today that may lack the prestige of the tournament's showpiece finale but remains an acutely important game for both sides.
The group is finely balanced.
Croatia are top, level on four points with Morocco and a point clear of Belgium with three, while bottom side Canada's hopes have already been extinguished.
Belgium, ranked second in the world, must win to guarantee their place in the last 16, while 2018 runners-up Croatia need only a point to ensure they will remain in Qatar beyond the group stage.
Roberto Martinez's side have been among the most disappointing of the favourites so far, with a narrow win over Canada and a humbling 2-0 defeat by Morocco leading to questions about whether this generation of Belgian gold has lost its lustre.
This was seemingly the view of playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who was quoted in an interview with the Guardian dismissing his side's chances at the tournament because“we're too old”.
They are certainly not the oldest squad at the tournament, that honour goes to Iran, but there are concerns about the fitness and form of some key stalwarts.
Eden Hazard's lack of playing time at Real Madrid this season, where he has started only one LaLiga game, has left him searching for match sharpness, while striker Romelu Lukaku, who came on in the 81st minute against Morocco, is another who is not up to speed.
Martinez pointed more to psychological aspects than physical in his post-mortem following their defeat to Morocco.
“We have to stay together now and become stronger. I know this group, we will be ready for Croatia,” he said.
“We haven't been the best Belgium at this World Cup yet. Today I thought we played with the fear of losing. Without the ball we still work for each other but when we have the ball, we don't stand out, we are not ourselves. We have to work on that.”
Croatia's tournament also began with a lifeless performance against Morocco, although the goalless draw provided a platform for them to kick-on against Canada.
They looked far sharper in Sunday's 4-1 win, with Andrej Kramaric's double strike dispelling doubts about whether they lack a cutting edge up front.
A draw would see them over the line but coach Zlatko Dalic ruled out playing for such a scenario.
“We must not accept the option of having only one point to end the match with Belgium,” he said.
“There are no easy games (at the World Cup). Belgium need a win but we will also aim for a win.”
When: Today at 6:00pm
Where: Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium (Capacity: 45,032)
- A draw for Croatia will be enough to see them into the last 16, while Belgium will then be relying on Canada defeating Morocco by three goals to stand a chance of a knockout place. A win for Belgium will see them finish above Croatia in Group F.
- Michy Batshuayi is the only player to score for Belgium at the 2022 World Cup so far, but Romelu Lukaku has returned to fitness and could start in his place. Midfielder Amadou Onana is suspended having picked up two yellow cards.
- Croatia's 4-1 win over Canada in their previous game was the second time they have netted four goals in a World Cup fixture. They also beat Cameroon 4-0 in 2014.
- Croatia reached the semi-finals in their debut at the World Cup finals in 1998. They featured in the final at the last edition of the tournament in 2018 but fell to France 4-2.
- To reach the 2018 final, Croatia were the first team at a World Cup to come from behind in three successive knockout round matches, all of which went to extra time.
Croatia and Belgium have met on eight occasions since their first clash in 2000. The head-to-head record is even with three wins each and two draws. Their previous fixture was a 1-0 friendly win for Belgium in June last year. This is their first meeting at the World Cup finals.