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World Cup Group F preview: European giants facing tough test

PUNJAB NEWS LINE | November 14, 2022 11:09 AM

DOHA: For Belgium and Croatia, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is the last chance for their golden generations to deliver glory, while Canada and Morocco enter the scene as underdogs and are ready to show something more than what they are currently doing to cause trouble for the two powerhouses.

Croatia were runners-up in 2018, losing to France 4-2 in Moscow, and Belgium won the third-place playoff -- the best-ever results at a World Cup for both nations.

Drawn against Canada and Morocco, it is not an absolute death group for the two Europeans, but the two relatively-aged squads need to grit their teeth if they are to replicate their deep runs at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, reports Xinhua.

Morocco have advanced to the round of 16 one time from their previous four World Cup appearances -- in 1986. Canada made their only previous World Cup appearance in the same year, finishing last in their group. However, having dominated their respective qualifying campaigns, both countries are hopeful of causing an upset in Qatar.

BELGIUM

The second-ranked team in the world cruised through qualifying, going undefeated in eight games with a goal difference of 19 and finishing top of their group.

Roberto Martinez, now in his seventh year as head coach of the national team, favors a 3-4-2-1 formation with stars Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, the creative forces behind striker Romelu Lukaku.

In defence, they are heavily reliant on veteran duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who play in front of star goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

The team's golden generation core of De Bruyne, Hazard, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Courtois, Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel are all in their 30s and Lukaku - who is managing a thigh injury -- is 29.

Star player: Kevin De Bruyne

The midfielder is among the world's best players and has started the season with Manchester City in fine form, scoring three goals and providing 13 assists in 17 appearances in the Premier League and Champions League.

The 31-year-old was not at his best at Euro 2020, when he played in Belgium's quarterfinal loss to Italy with torn ankle ligaments and will be seeking to make amends.

One to watch: Zeno Debast

With age in defence a major concern for Belgium, Martinez could turn to teenager Debast as a fresh face. The 19-year-old has impressed for Anderlecht in the Belgian Pro League, reportedly drawing interest from Liverpool and drawing comparisons with compatriot Vincent Kompany. After starting his career as an attacking midfielder, Debast is confident on the ball and regularly launches attacks with long balls from the back.

CROATIA

Runners-up in 2018, Croatia return to the World Cup determined to claim a maiden title after a difficult qualification. Manager Zlatko Dalic uses a regimented possession-based 4-3-3 formation and has a squad largely intact from 2018.

Midfield trio Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic are among the world's most experienced, with more than 300 international caps.

Star player: Luka Modric

The greatest player in Croatian history, captain Modric has enjoyed vast success at club level with Real Madrid.

The player of the tournament in Russia and 2018 Ballon d'Or winner, Modric is the most capped player in the nation's history and, at 37, still the core of the team and the driving creative force.

One to watch: Josko Gvardiol

A rising star in European football, Gvardiol, 20, has emerged as Croatia's best defender.

The centre back pairs with Josip Sutalo, replacing Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida to allow attackers to play out more confidently.

Among the world's top prospects, Gvardiol has been heavily linked with a transfer from Red Bull Leipzig to Chelsea in 2023.

MOROCCO

After qualifying for a second consecutive World Cup for the first time in their history, Morocco are hoping for their first win at the tournament since 1998. Morocco qualified in dominant style, topping their group as the only African side to win all six games, conceding only one goal.

However, coach Vahid Halilhodzic was fired in August on the back of a disappointing African Cup of Nations and was replaced by the relatively unknown Walid Regragui. Under Regragui. Morocco will likely line up in a 4-3-3 formation in Qatar, with wide players carrying much of the creative burden.

Star player: Achraf Hakimi

The right back has emerged as one of the best in the world at his position since joining Paris St Germain in 2021.

At 24, Hakimi has already earned more than 50 international caps, with his immense pace proving crucial for the national team. Defensively, Hakimi's matchups with Hazard and Canada's Alphonso Davies will be crucial to Morocco's chances of progressing.

One to watch: Hakim Ziyech

Ziyech retired from international football after falling out with Halilhodzic but has returned as Morocco's creative fulcrum on the right wing under Regragui.

The 29-year-old has expressed frustration over a lack of opportunities at Chelsea, having played only 131 minutes in the Premier League this season.

Nicknamed "The Wizard", Ziyech will be crucial for a Moroccan side lacking a clear-cut goal threat.

CANADA

Having gone 36 years without playing in a World Cup, Canada made sure of their presence in Qatar with an 11-game unbeaten run in qualifying that saw them top the group ahead of heavyweights Mexico and the United States.

Under coach John Herdman, the Canadians prefer a 3-5-2 formation, inviting pressure and hitting on the counter attack. In Qatar, Canada, one of the co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup finals, is about building confidence and experience as the country has never scored a goal or earned a point at a World Cup.

Star player: Alphonso Davies

One of the best left backs in the world with Bayern Munich, Herdman deploys the 22-year-old further forward where Davies uses his blistering pace to lead counter attacks.

A hamstring injury earlier in November sent fears through the Canadian camp but Davies is expected to be fit for the opening match against Belgium.

One to watch: Jonathan David

Canada's another spearhead, David is among the leading scorers in Ligue 1 this season with nine goals and three assists in 14 appearances for Lille. The 22-year-old scored five of Canada's 23 goals in the third round of CONCACAF qualifying.

 
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