World Cup Preview - Group F

23.11.2022 09:11:07 Bradley Lobo
Kevin De Bruyne of Belgium

Morocco 

The Lowdown

Morocco arrive at their sixth World Cup hoping to make it into the knockout stage for only the second time. The Atlas Lions find themselves in possibly the most open group in the tournament with all four teams having a legitimate chance of progression. Qualification was very straightforward winning all their games barring a draw at Congo, who they then thrashed 4-1 in the home leg to book their flight to Qatar. 


The Manager/Style of Play

Walid Regragui only took over from Vahid Halilhodzic in August so has had little time to work with his new players and wasn’t part of the qualification process. The early signs have been positive as he is unbeaten after three games in charge (W2 D1) and Morocco haven’t conceded a goal – seemingly maintaining the solidity that saw them have the best defensive record in African qualifying. The biggest decisions the manager has made is recalling players who fell out with Halilhodzic, most notably Hakim Ziyech. Amine Harit was another one who got back in but he has since been ruled out of the competition with an injury and will be missed.

 

The Captain

Romain Saïss

Mostly known for his stint at Wolves where he played over 200 games - helping them to establish themselves as a Premier League team after promotion. A strong and aggressive defender who can also play in midfield due to his assurance on the ball. The oldest outfield player in the squad and a real leader.

 

The Key Man

Achraf Hakimi

At just 24 years of age, Hakimi has already played for some of Europe’s biggest clubs; Real MadridBorussia DortmundInter Milan and now PSG. And with good reason. An explosive full-back who is key to the way Morrocco like to attack the flanks. He has improved defensively too and is now arguably the best in the world in his position.

 

The One to Watch

Hakim Ziyech – left out in the cold by the previous coach at international level and now little more than a bit-part player at his club Chelsea, Ziyech has a real chance for redemption in Qatar. The most gifted player in the Moroccan squad with a sublime array of passing and excellent set-piece delivery. Will likely form a potentially deadly partnership down the right flank with Hakimi. Ziyech prefers to cut inside onto his stronger left foot, allowing Hakimi the space to bomb forward on the outside. 

 

Verdict

2nd – In a group of potential dark horses, Morocco may just be the team to spring a surprise and make it to the knockout stage.

 

Croatia 

The Lowdown

The beaten finalists from 2018 return with the dream of going one better this time around. Croatia have been to all but one World Cup since their eligibility began after the 1994 edition. They finished 3rd in their first tournament in 1998 and runners-up last time out but have gone out in the group stage every other time. A few big players from their run to the final in Russia like Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic have since retired and Croatia won just one game at Euro 2020. Qualifying for Qatar wasn’t all smooth sailing, despite eventually topping their group. The Vatreni do come into the tournament in good form with 5 consecutive wins including victories away at France and Denmark in the Nations League.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Zlatko Dalić retains his position for a third successive major international tournament and back-to-back World Cups. The manager has had to deal with losing important players but has maintained the same possession-based style of play which is mostly dictated by a terrific midfield. Like many teams in this tournament, Croatia lack a potent centre-forward and will rely on goals being shared around.

 

The Captain/Key Man

Luka Modric still fills both these roles at the ripe old age of 37. The man who gatecrashed the Messi/Ronaldo domination of the Balon D’or award in 2018 and was also named as the best player at the World Cup that year. Modric proved he was far from a spent force when he helped guide Real Madrid to a LaLiga and Champions League double last season with some majestic displays. Along with Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovavic, he forms one of the best midfield trios in the entire competition, one that will be key to any potential success for Croatia

 

The One to Watch

Joško Gvardiol – the youngest player to ever represent Croatia at a major international tournament when he was just 19 years old at Euro 2020 last summer. An imposing figure with a fully-grown beard, he looks and plays like a man beyond his years. A combination of physical strength and technical quality, he will be at the heart of Croatia’s defence for years to come.

 

Verdict

3rd – Many will expect them to go through the group as runners-up but 2018 was probably their peak and the drop-off already began at Euro 2020. There are younger and perhaps hungrier teams who will give them problems.

  

Canada

The Lowdown

Making only their second ever appearance at a World Cup and after an absence of 36 years, Canada have come almost out of nowhere to emerge as the football hipsters’ choice for dark horses in Qatar. The Canucks only other venture onto the world stage came at Mexio 1986 where they lost all three group games without scoring a goal, so there isn’t much pedigree to rely on. Supporters and admirers will be banking on an exciting crop of young players that is arguably the best in their history. Canada finished top of the CONCACAF qualifying group ahead of the likes of USA and Mexico. Now they’ll be hoping to announce themselves on the world scene.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

John Herdman – a virtual unknown who had no professional playing career and made a name for himself coaching in the women’s game. He made a seamless transition to the Canadian men’s team in 2018 and has guided them to exponential improvement. The English coach has shown tactical flexibility throughout his reign, but it seems likely that he’ll adopt a counter-attacking approach in what looks a very tough group. It would be a wise move given the pace they have in transitions.

 

The Captain

Atiba Hutchinson – the oldest and most capped player in the squad. 39-year-old Hutchinson will surpass a century of appearances for his country if he features in all their group games. The powerful midfielder has spent most of his career playing in top leagues across Europe and is approaching 300 appearances for Beşiktaş. He will provide much-needed experience to an otherwise youthful group.

 

The Key Man

Alphonso Davies – the only real bonafide superstar of Canadian football. Davies had achieved more than everyone in the squad combined by the time he was 20 years old after being part of a Bayern Munich side that won 6 trophies in a year. An electric full-back for his club, Davies adopts a more attacking role for his country. Arrives at the World Cup having just recovered from an injury and Canucks fans will be praying he can hit the ground running.

 

The One to Watch

Jonathan David – already 2nd on the all-time list of Canadian goal-scorers behind fellow squad member and potential strike-partner Cyle Larin. David has the greatest ever goals-to-games ratio for the national team with 22 goals in 35 appearances. After a couple of prolific seasons at Gent in Belgian, he carried his form over to France where he was a key contributor in bringing Lille their first Ligue 1 title for a decade in 2021. He is currently only behind PSG holy trinity Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi for goal-involvements in the French top flight this season.

 

Verdict

4th – In most major tournaments there always seems to be a leftfield pick that gains a groundswell of support but falls flat on its face. Canada have a very talented squad but lack experience at this kind of level.

 

Belgium 

The Lowdown

The perennial dark horses have now become the old dogs that need to be put out to pasture according to some pundits. Faith seems to have been lost in Belgium’s ageing squad which possesses 8 of the top 10 all-time appearance makers for the country. This is their third consecutive World Cup, having reached the quarter-finals in 2014 and achieved a 3rd place finish in Russia last time out. The Red Devils had no issues qualifying for Qatar going unbeaten (W6 D2) and scoring a tonne of goals, but they didn’t face any real tests. This is likely the last chance for the famed “Golden Generation” at a major international tournament.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Roberto Martinez will take charge in his third straight major international tournament having only lost to the eventual winners at his previous two, France at World Cup 2018 and Italy at Euro 2020 last summer. The Spaniard unsurprisingly likes a possession-based style of football and he certainly has the talent to execute it. A 3-4-2-1 formation is most likely, but Romelu Lukaku is key to that system as the lone striker and he won’t be fit enough for at least the first group game after coming back from injury. 

 

The Captain

Eden Hazard – another player who is a fitness concern having fallen out of favour at Real Madrid where his tenure as a whole has been utterly disastrous. One of the best players in the world in his heyday but injuries and lack of form has seen his stock plummet. Belgium fans will be hoping that this is the stage he needs to remind the world of what he’s capable of.

 

The Key Man

Kevin De Bruyne has been one of the very best players in the Premier League for many seasons now, integral to Manchester City winning four of the last five domestic titles. Success on the European and international stage has evaded him though. A shame for such a majestic player with an unrivalled range of passing and sublime overall technique. Belgium will rely on inspirational performances from him if they are to achieve success.

 

The One to Watch

Wout Faes has almost single-handedly transformed Leicester City’s defence in the Premier League. Ever since his integration into the team, the Foxes have gone from leaking goals at will to conceding just once in their last 7 matches (a marvellous free-kick from the aforementioned De Bruyne). Belgium’s biggest concern is their ageing defence with Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen having a combined age of almost 70. Faes provides a more youthful option to complete the 3-man backline.

 

Verdict

1st - people seem to be writing off Belgium but even the “Golden Generations” of previous winners Spain, Germany and France didn’t achieve instant success. Failures can build character. They might not end up winning the tournament but have more than enough quality and experience to top this group.

 

 

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