World Cup Group F: Canada, Belgium, Morocco and Croatia

Remark

At first look — or a look primarily based purely on FIFA’s rankings — this group doesn’t appear to be an excessive amount of of a check for a staff comparable to Belgium, now the No. 2 squad on the planet after a future atop the record. Not one of the different three members of the group is ranked larger than No. 12. There’s greater than meets the attention in Group F, although. Canada, in its first World Cup in additional than 30 years, is able to make some noise. Morocco made a run on the newest Africa Cup of Nations. And regardless of Belgium’s excessive rating, there’s just one staff right here with current expertise in a World Cup remaining: Croatia, the 2018 runner-up.

Right here’s a better take a look at Group F, which kicks off Nov. 23 when Morocco faces Croatia and Canada takes on Belgium.

In Roberto Martínez’s six years in cost, the Purple Devils earned a best-ever third-place end on the 2018 World Cup and held the No. 1 spot in FIFA’s rankings for greater than three years, all whereas often that includes a number of of the world’s greatest gamers. However a trophy has proved elusive. In what’s seemingly its remaining run at a significant match, is that this the 12 months for Belgium’s “Golden Generation” to lastly declare, properly, its gold?


Belgium’s greatest exhibiting in World Cup historical past was in 2018, when it completed third.

Belgium’s greatest exhibiting in World Cup historical past was in 2018, when it completed third.

Belgium’s greatest exhibiting in World Cup historical past was in 2018, when it completed third.

Belgium has lengthy hovered across the high tier of the world’s greatest sport — a formidable feat for a rustic roughly the dimensions of Maryland. Its newest crop of expertise has reached new highs, defeating England within the third-place match in Russia 4 years in the past. Belgium is the one nation to take a seat atop FIFA’s rankings with out profitable the World Cup or a continental title — it owned the highest spot from September 2018 till March 2022, when Brazil took over.

After exiting the European Championship final summer season within the quarterfinals, the Belgians certified for Qatar by profitable UEFA’s Group E, seeing 5 targets from star striker Romelu Lukaku and at the very least two targets from six different gamers. Since that event in November 2021, although, they’ve had a little bit of a rocky stretch, with a pair of defeats to the Netherlands up to now two UEFA Nations League home windows.


Coach

Roberto Martínez

49 years previous

The group that led Belgium to the semifinals in Russia has stayed largely intact for this 12 months’s match. Kevin De Bruyne, the 31-year-old midfielder who has gained 4 Premier League titles starring for Manchester Metropolis, wasn’t in peak type at Euro 2020 due to accidents however remains to be the most effective gamers on the planet. Captain Eden Hazard, who earned the Silver Ball because the World Cup’s second-best participant in 2018, has struggled to search out his footing at Actual Madrid since a transfer there in 2019 but stays a key determine on the nationwide staff. Questions stay about an getting older again line, however goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois — the Golden Glove winner on the 2018 World Cup — proved in Actual Madrid’s Champions League run final 12 months that he’s nonetheless a drive.


Romelu Lukaku

29 years previous, Antwerp, Belgium

Inter Milan

Romelu Lukaku

29 years previous, Antwerp, Belgium

Inter Milan

Romelu Lukaku

29 years previous, Antwerp, Belgium

Inter Milan

At 29, Lukaku has already established himself as one of many high Belgian gamers in historical past. (To be honest, he’d accomplished that properly prior to now, setting the nation’s all-time scoring document in 2017. His tally is now 68 targets over 13 years.) After an unsuccessful stint within the Premier League at Chelsea final 12 months, Lukaku returned on mortgage this summer season to Inter Milan, which he led to a Serie A crown in 2021. His well being may very well be a query heading into Qatar: He scored two minutes into his return to Inter in August, however damage points have restricted his minutes for the season’s first few months.

If Belgium’s “Golden Generation” is nearing the top of its run, it appears as if Canada’s is simply starting. The northern nation’s younger stars have introduced their nation again onto the worldwide stage, qualifying for the World Cup for under the second time in historical past and first since 1986.


Qatar will probably be Canada’s second World Cup.

Qatar will probably be Canada’s second World Cup.

Qatar will probably be Canada’s second World Cup.

Three years in the past this fall, Canada recorded a historic 2-0 win over the US — its first victory over its American rival since 1985. Since then, the upward progress has continued: John Herdman has led Canada from 72nd within the FIFA rankings to as excessive as thirty third this February. (Les Rouges at the moment maintain the No. 41 spot on FIFA’s record, trailing the three different Concacaf sides within the World Cup after a bumpy June window that included a loss to Honduras and two canceled video games.)

The Canadians completed atop the Concacaf qualifying desk, recording eight wins within the 14-game remaining spherical and defeating the US once more Jan. 30. A pair of friendlies in September towards Qatar (a 2-0 win) and Uruguay (a 2-0 loss) have been their first towards non-Concacaf opponents since a January 2020 match towards Iceland. Canada hasn’t crushed a European opponent since Belarus in 2011, and its final win over a South American squad was towards Colombia in 2000.


Coach

John Herdman

47 years previous

Two of the highest three scorers in the course of the remaining spherical of Concacaf qualifying got here from Canada: winger Cyle Larin (six targets) and ahead Jonathan David (5). Larin, who spent three seasons in MLS earlier than shifting abroad, is the nationwide staff’s all-time main scorer. David, 22, is extensively thought to be one of many high younger attacking abilities in Europe after two standout campaigns with Lille in France. Tajon Buchanan, a 23-year-old winger who performs with Larin at Membership Brugge, was an all-star expertise throughout three seasons in MLS and earned greatest younger participant honors ultimately 12 months’s Gold Cup.


Alphonso Davies

21 years previous, Buduburam, Ghana

Bayern Munich

Alphonso Davies

21 years previous, Buduburam, Ghana

Bayern Munich

Alphonso Davies

21 years previous, Buduburam, Ghana

Bayern Munich

Les Rouges’ qualifying marketing campaign was already spectacular, and that’s earlier than you keep in mind they completed the job with out their star participant. Alphonso Davies, the 21-year-old Bayern Munich left again who turned the primary male Canadian to win the Champions League in 2020, missed Canada’s remaining 4 qualifying video games with a case of delicate myocarditis. (That didn’t cease him from celebrating when his staff sealed its World Cup spot.)

The reigning Concacaf participant of the 12 months returned to the nationwide staff squad with a bang in June, scoring two targets in a Nations League sport — with Canada, he’s often deployed in additional attacking positions on the wing or within the midfield — and needs to be close to full type to create a lot extra highlight-reel moments in Qatar.

At No. 22, the Atlas Lions are the second-highest-ranked African staff within the FIFA rankings, behind solely AFCON winner Senegal. They exited this 12 months’s continental match within the quarterfinals however nonetheless managed to qualify for his or her second consecutive World Cup — though the supervisor who helped earn that place gained’t make the journey to Qatar with them.


Morocco was a part of France for the primary 5 World Cups. Qatar would be the sixth look since its independence.

Morocco was a part of France for the primary 5 World Cups. Qatar would be the sixth look since its independence.

Morocco was a part of France for the primary 5 World Cups. Qatar would be the sixth look since its independence.

Within the 2018 version, the nation’s first after a 20-year absence, Morocco completed final in a troublesome group that additionally featured Spain and Portugal. Three of its different 4 World Cup appearances additionally ended within the group stage.

The Moroccans certified for the World Cup in March however fired supervisor Vahid Halilhodzic in August after a months-long extremely publicized spat involving the nation’s star, Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech. Halilhodzic helped two different nations (Ivory Coast in 2010 and Japan in 2018) qualify for these tournaments, however in each situations was additionally sacked earlier than the World Cup even started. The 29-year-old Ziyech give up worldwide soccer after he was left off this 12 months’s AFCON squad and refused a call-up for the March qualifiers, however the coach’s exit opened the door for Ziyech’s return in September.


Coach

Walid Regragui

47 years previous

A lot of Morocco’s staff — together with many of the group that confronted the US in a loss in a June pleasant — is predicated in Europe. On the again line, captain Romain Saiss performs for Besiktas in Turkey after spending six years with England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, and proper again Achraf Hakimi is a longtime starter for Paris Saint-Germain. Noussair Mazraoui, a gifted defender who joined Bayern Munich this summer season from Ajax, additionally missed out on AFCON and the ultimate qualifiers this 12 months due to a falling out with Halilhodzic however was known as again up in September.


Hakim Ziyech

29 years previous, Dronten, Netherlands

Chelsea

Hakim Ziyech

29 years previous, Dronten, Netherlands

Chelsea

Hakim Ziyech

29 years previous, Dronten, Netherlands

Chelsea

Ziyech was recalled to the nationwide staff squad for its September friendlies towards Chile and Paraguay, giving Morocco an attacking increase. Like Mazraoui, Zieych broke onto the European stage after profitable a lot of titles and particular person honors at Ajax. Since shifting to Chelsea in 2020, the winger has struggled to duplicate that success. Ought to issues get smoother on the membership degree and on the nationwide staff — former Moroccan worldwide Walid Regragui took over in late August — Ziyech might see a return to stronger type in time for Qatar.

The comparatively shock runner-up on the World Cup in 2018, Zlatko Dalic’s squad has seen its ups and downs within the 4 years since that summer season in Russia. A robust document to this point this 12 months may very well be a promising signal for the No. 12 Croatians forward of Qatar.


Croatia was a part of Yugoslavia till 1991. It reached the ultimate on the final World Cup, shedding to France.

Croatia was a part of Yugoslavia till 1991. It reached the ultimate on the final World Cup, shedding to France.

Croatia was a part of Yugoslavia till 1991. It reached the ultimate on the final World Cup, shedding to France.

For a rustic with a inhabitants of solely 4 million that has performed solely 30 years as an impartial nation, Croatia has at all times punched above its weight on soccer’s greatest stage. It completed third at its first World Cup in 1998, and 20 years later reached the match remaining towards France. The Croatians misplaced, 4-2, in Moscow, however reaching the ultimate marked a brand new historic achievement for a nation — and a squad of gamers — simply many years faraway from a damaging struggle.

The previous two years haven’t been all clean crusing. In 2020, Croatia gained solely two of its eight video games; a 12 months later, Dalic and a number of other veteran gamers confronted calls to step down after a round-of-16 exit on the European Championship. They turned it round, although, ending the rest of their qualifying cycle in UEFA’s Group H unbeaten and incomes a formidable 1-0 win over France in a World Cup rematch in June, plus two Nations League victories over Denmark and Austria in September.


Coach

Zlatko Dalic

55 years previous

Some thought the 2018 World Cup may very well be the ultimate main match for Croatia’s “Golden Generation” — that is the Group of “Golden Generations,” for those who haven’t seen already — however a lot of these veterans look prone to nonetheless stay as anchors for the Vatreni in Qatar. Winger Ivan Perisic moved to Tottenham Hotspur after six seasons in Italy, however was Croatia’s best participant at Euro 2020 earlier than the coronavirus dominated him out for the knockout rounds. Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic and Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic are nonetheless mainstays within the midfield, and on an older squad, Luka Sucic, a 20-year-old midfielder at Purple Bull Salzburg, is a younger identify to look at off the bench.

Mario Mandzukic, the nation’s second-all-time main scorer who scored each an personal objective and a daily objective within the 2018 remaining, will probably be on the sidelines as one in every of Dalic’s assistants in Qatar.


Luka Modric

37 years previous, Zadar, Croatia

Actual Madrid

Luka Modric

37 years previous, Zadar, Croatia

Actual Madrid

Luka Modric

37 years previous, Zadar, Croatia

Actual Madrid

Now 37, Luka Modric is essentially the most capped participant in his nation’s historical past and has led Croatia in each main match it has certified for for the reason that 2006 World Cup. In 2018, he gained the Golden Ball as the perfect participant in Russia and the Ballon d’Or as the highest male participant on the planet. If his play of late is any indication — he helped energy Actual Madrid’s comeback to win the Champions League this spring — time has but to gradual him down forward of what’s seemingly his remaining World Cup.

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