I don’t know who thought scheduling a Group F game before Group E was a good idea, but regardless, all the games in this group have the potential to be incredibly entertaining.
We know the star power and world class depth Belgium boasts, Luka Modric and Croatia are reigning world runner-ups, a resurgent Canada side sees elder statesmen Atiba Hutchinson and Milan Borjan go out with a trip to the World Cup and pass the torch to an impressive new generation, and a Moroccan side with some legit star power of their own should make for a well rounded and tough group.
Wed, Nov. 23, Morocco vs. Croatia, 5 a.m. Al Bayt - FS1, Telemundo
Wed, Nov. 23, Belgium vs. Canada, 2 p.m. Ahmad Bin Ali - FOX, Telemundo
Sun, Nov. 27, Belgium vs. Morocco, 8 a.m. Al Thumama - FS1, Telemundo
Sun, Nov. 27, Croatia vs. Canada, 11 a.m. Khalifa Int’l - FS1, Telemundo
Thurs, Dec. 1, Croatia vs. Belgium, 10 a.m. Ahmad Bin Ali - FOX, Telemundo
Thurs, Dec. 1, Canada vs. Morocco, 10 a.m. Al Thumama - FS1, Universo
BELGIUM [BEL / F1 – Pot 1]
Head Coach: Roberto Martinez (ESP)
Nickname: Red Devils
Rankings: FIFA 2 / ELO 5
Qualification: UEFA Group E Winners
Appearance: 14th / Best Finish: Third Place (2018)
Belgium drop their roster for the World Cup pic.twitter.com/kXaJHq6gVv— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 10, 2022
Recent Results: Int’l Friendly – L 1-2 vs Egypt; UEFA Nations League – L 0-1 at Netherlands; W 2-1 vs Belgium
Player You Should Know: MID Kevin De Bruyne (Man City), FWD Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), FWD Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan)
Player You Should Watch: MID Youri Tielemans, Leicester City (ENG), 55 Int’l Caps / 5 Goals
This could be the last go around for Belgium’s golden generation who don’t have a lot of team acolades to hang their hats on. A third place at last year’s World Cup and a semifinal berth to the Nations League in the 2020-21 cycle are the highlights to go along with two Euro quarterfinal losses. This squad is certainly talented enough to get back to the semis but their preformances at major tournaments paired with a solid group means it will likely be a tough road to get there.
CANADA [CAN / F2 – Pot 4]
Head Coach: John Herdman (ENG)
Nickname: The Canucks
Rankings: FIFA 41 / ELO 29
Qualification: CONCACAF Third Round Winners
Appearance: 2nd / Best Finish: Group Stage (1986)
26 players, 1 dream #CANMNT x @CIBC #WeCAN pic.twitter.com/cjN1TnqPXf— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 13, 2022
Recent Results: Int’l Friendlies – W 2-1 vs Japan; D 2-2 at Bahrain
Player You Should Know: F/M Tajon Buchanan, Club Brugge (BEL), 26 Int’l Caps / 4 goals
Player You Should Watch: MID Stephen Eustaquio, Porto (POR), 26 Int’l Caps / 3 goals
Canada’s rise during this World Cup cycle can only be described as meteoric. Long an afterthought in the region and not a regular in the final Hexagonal or Octagonal round, the Canucks didn’t lose a qualifying game until their 12th game of the third round when qualification was already practically assured. Cyle Larin and Jonathan David led the final round in scoring combining for 11 goals but here we stan former New England Revolution winger Buchanan. Also, Eustaquio has been a real solid preformer in the central midfield for a team that has star power in a lot of other areas and can not get enough credit for what he does at both ends of the field.
This however is a really tough group for Canada on their return to the World Cup level, but they have the star power to compete with just about anyone. Depth might come into play and drawing the two European teams first is not ideal but any positive result in the first two games could give them a shot at a win or go home against Morocco on the final day.
CROATIA [CRO / F4 – Pot 2]
Head Coach: Zlatko Dalic (CRO)
Nickname: Kockasti (The Checkered Ones) / Vatreni (The Blazers)
Rankings: FIFA 12 / ELO 12
Qualification: UEFA Group H Winners
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Runners-up (2018)
#Croatia presents squad numbers for the 2022 @FIFAWorldCup in Qatar! Any surprises there? #WorldCup #Family #Vatreni❤️ pic.twitter.com/syvnLrfItg— HNS (@HNS_CFF) November 14, 2022
Recent Results: Int’l Friendly – W 1-0 at Saudi Arabia; UEFA Nations League – W at Austria 3-1; W vs Denmark 2-1
Player You Should Know: MID Luka Modric, Real Madrid (ESP), 155 Int’l Caps / 23 goals
Player You Should Watch: MID Mario Pasalic, Atalanta (ITA), 43 Int’l Caps / 7 goals
I would love nothing more than to see Croatia make another deep run at a World Cup for their talisman Luka Modric and just because this has always been a very underrated side with a boom or bust history at this tournament. I don’t think last year’s Final appearance was a fluke, nor their appearance in this years UEFA Nations League semis.
Ivan Perisic will be leading the top line but this team is all about the midfield and their organization and their late game composure. They know how to close out games, won two penalty shootouts in the knockouts last time around, and should make a run at the top of this group.
MOROCCO [MAR / F3 – Pot 3]
Head Coach: Walid Regrgui (MOR)
Nickname: The Atlas Lions
Rankings: FIFA 22 / ELO 30
Qualification: CAF Second Round Group I Winners; Aggregate Playoff Win 5-2 vs DR Congo
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Round of 16 (1986)
FULL LIST: Morocco squad for the Qatar 2022 World Cup#TheCableIndex#Qatar2022 pic.twitter.com/AirZIQfyJb— TheCableIndex (@thecableindex) November 17, 2022
Recent Results: Int’l Friendlies - W vs Georgia 3-0; D vs Paraguay 0-0; W vs Chile 2-0
Player You Should Know: F/M Hakim Ziyech, Chelsea (ENG), 43 Int’l Caps / 18 goals
Player You Should Watch: DEF Achraf Hakimi, PSG (FRA), 54 Int’l Caps / 8 goals
Morocco have legit stars in both Ziyech and Hakimi, the latter being perhaps the best right back in the world right now. This team however was not really tested at all in qualifying, breezing through their group and then drawing the lowest ranked group winner in the playoff round in the DR Congo. They have been a more regular side in the Cup of Nations knockouts in recent years, and they usually claim a result. It would be a real shame if that final match against Canada was only for pride, because both teams could be knockout threats.
Despite my excitement and hope that this group could descend into chaos, it is still incredibly likely that Belgium and Croatia will decide this group on the final day. I still think Canada and Morocco both get results in this tournament, and not just by tying each other - I think Canada in particular nabs a result in one of their first two games but Belgium out of the game is a tough ask.
Raise a Labatt Blue to Alphonso Davies and Hakimi just bombing forward down the right hand side for at least he next three games in hope that either of them gets to do it for a fourth. But I think Croatia overtakes Belgium on the final day to win the group and on paper, and combination of Belgium/Croatia vs Spain/Germany in the Ro16 is not a bad thing
Croatia - Belgium - Canada - Morocco