Doha: In FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, Croatia will take on Belgium and Canada will play against Morocco on Thursday.
Both matches will be played at 8:00 pm Pakistan Standard Time.
Earlier, Argentina beat Poland by 2-0 and Mexico beat Saudi Arabia by 2-1 last night.
Croatia vs Belgium
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 on Thursday 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.
Canada vs Morocco
An invigorated Moroccan team will be seeking to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time in nearly four decades by defeating or drawing with Canada in their final Group F match on Thursday.
Morocco recorded their first World Cup win since 1998 by defeating second-ranked Belgium 2-0 on Sunday, sparking euphoria among players, wild celebrations among fans - and even riots in Brussels.
Canada were knocked out after losing their two opening fixtures against Belgium and Croatia but managed to score their first ever World Cup goal - just 68 seconds after kick off - against the Croatians.
With nothing left at stake in the tournament, Canada will try to build on the strong performance they showed against Belgium and focus on leaving Qatar in good form as they prepare to co-host the World Cup with the United States and Mexico in 2026.
With the World Cup expanding from 32 nations to 48 from 2026, Canada can hope to take part more often in future tournaments after their automatic qualification as co-hosts in four years’ time.
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