Croatia v Belgium
The final game of Group E sees the two European sides go head-to-head still unsure of a place in the Round of 16. Croatia have the upper-hand, knowing that a win or a draw will take them through to the knockouts, whilst Belgium have to win to progress owing to their goal difference deficit to Morocco.
With the North African side playing an already-eliminated Canada, it looks as though only one of these sides will progress to the next round.
In Belgium, confidence is hard to find, as most of the nation expects the Red Devils to crash out in the group stage of a major tournament for the first time since the emergence of the Golden Generation, with a tough test against a Croatian side that really clicked into gear in their last game against the Canadians.
Croatia will certainly hope that they can build upon the impressive attacking from their second group game. The tactical switch of starting Marko Livaja and allowing Andrej Kramaric to be in a freer role created plenty of opportunities against a Canadian side that Belgium struggled to get any joy from until they tired. By the time Canada tired against Croatia, however, the game was already put to bed.
Belgium have to win, and changes are to be expected. Amadou Onana is suspended, so there is an enforced change there, whilst more attacking players may be drafted in to aid a side that has looked extremely unthreatening in both group games so far.
Thorgan Hazard or Jeremy Doku may replace the sometimes-rash Thomas Meunier, whilst one of Dendoncker, Tielemans or Vanaken will likely replace Onana. Despite his poor performances so far, Lukaku’s continued fitness issues seems to suggest Batshuayi will retain his starting role.
The unconvincing performance of the team, and the noticeable underperformance of star man Kevin De Bruyne have led to tensions in the dressing room, and though players have been quick to deny any reports of fighting, they will need to prove the harmony of the squad on the pitch.
Belgium have to score at least once, and to do so they will have to increase their tempo, something which may expose their aging backline to counters. Croatia’s defence may be nothing special, but their midfield excels in transition, able to quickly set free their forwards who are extremely clinical when through on goal.
This will be a tough task for the world’s number 2 ranked side, who have left themselves absolutely no margin for error.
Belgium will have to score. To do so, it will have to increase their tempo, which also implies that it will be running into counters. Croatia has many clever players up front, who will take advantage of the space they are given. On their part, Belgium will throw everything into forcing a goal.
Belgium conceded 2 vs Morocco with a total match goals expectancy of 2.44. Against Canada, the total match xG was 3.40.
Belgium have goals in them at both ends, they’ve already shown how weak they are defensively, yet, with Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku, you wouldn’t back against them finding the net at least once.
Kramaric was unstoppable against Canada, taking advantage of the space offered to him. With Belgium needing to take the game to Croatia, Kramaric is likely to enjoy similar space drifting in from the right and against a central defensive pairing that is older and less capable of chasing him down.
With the confidence of an excellent performance against Canada in the books and the centre of Croatia’s attack likely to be concentrating on link up play rather than taking upon the burden of shooting itself, expect Kramaric to be the main threat for getting in behind and tormenting the Belgian backline.
One thing Croatia can ill afford to do in this game is pick up bookings that rule out players for a potential last 16 showdown. Two players are at risk of this – Dejan Lovren and Luka Modric.
While Lovren can be adequately replaced and so can play his normal game against Belgium, Modric will be a necessity to keep on the pitch for the knock-out stages and, as such, much of the dirty work he normally does will need to be passed on and the natural candidate for that is Marcelo Brozovic.
Belgium’s midfield hasn’t lit the tournament up yet, but with De Bruyne and Hazard, the potential is always there, and Brozovic will be tasked with keeping them on a tight leash – that’s unlikely to always stay strictly within the confines of the rules.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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