Canada, Croatia, Morocco and Belgium

Romelu Lukaku (left) and Roberto Martinez

Romelu Lukaku (left) and Roberto Martinez
image: beautiful pictures

“BUG’S LAST CHANCE!” You have heard or seen this already. They are Europe’s great waste of the past decade. There is no greater collection of talent than Belgium have shown in the last four major tournaments and a 3rd place finish in Russia is all they have to show to get there. This could be where the last rotation went well, or the pressure of previous failures broke everything.

Belgium has been the choice of hipster players to win the World Cup or the Euro since 2014 onward, since Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard began parting ways with the Premier League, Romelu Lukaku started doing it. True to his word, Thibault Courtois has gone on to become perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world, and an astonishing amount of talent spread across Europe’s top clubs. And they never lived up to it. They played in the quarterfinals against Argentina in 2014, were somehow knocked out of Euro 2016 by Wales, failed to get past France in Russia and then met the Italian wall in their way in the summer of 2021. Arguably, if you’re so inclined that with this enigmatically talented group of players, they’ve only beaten one real heavyweight in four tournaments, and that’s Brazil in the quarters of 2018. And they did. extremely lucky to do that (Brazil taking 27 hits and running increases the number of 2.8-0.5 xG in that game). Quite simply, the Red Devils did not meet the requirements.

Some people (like me) will criticize coach Roberto Martinez, who always uses his comfort and availability with the media to hide the fact that he may not know what he is doing. He is one of a number of managers who have made Everton a mess, although that may be the nature of that club. He has somehow applied that to Belgian work, where even with its unique collection of attacking talent, Belgium has never looked so dynamic or cohesive.

Part of Belgium’s problem was that Martinez insisted on using a 3-4-2-1 formation, which did not always bring out De Bruyne’s full potential, despite maximizing the plethora of players he could play. in the full-back position. The other problem is that Martinez has his favorites and rarely leaves them. Even if one of them is Eden Hazard, who hasn’t played regularly for Real Madrid for three seasons and is no longer the man he is. Leandro Trossard or Charles de Ketelaere would happily take the place opposite De Bruyne behind Lukaku or Michy Batshuayi, but Hazard continues to start in the 11-man squad. almost certainly past his sale date.

The problem that Martinez will have to solve this time is how to go further in the tournament that Belgium once had, with only one acceptable result, with a defense that is three days older than the country. It will still be anchored by Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld (age combined: Statler and Waldorf). Based on recent Nations League appearances, it looks like 19-year-old Zeno Debast will join them in a three-man defence. That’s certainly one way to deal with that, but unfortunately Belgium has too many other options. At many points, they made great starts but didn’t have too many options off the bench.

Martinez has never been too concerned with defence, always thinking that he can overcome his defensive weaknesses, which seems to be the only way out for Belgium with its aging defense. Which they can do. The firepower at full-back makes most people jealous, with any Yannick Carrasco, Trossard, Thomas Meunier, Timothy Castagne and Thorgan Hazard able to fill the role. And basically, they all want to play as a forward while playing at full-back. That’s why Belgium can generate big numbers like they have done in the past, such as scoring 3 goals against Russia in the Euros or 8 goals against Panama and Tunisia in the last World Cup, or come upstream from 2 goals against Japan as they did in that tournament as well.

But it’s always not okay when it’s time to dance with the big boys. Brazil, France, Portugal and Italy had no trouble neutralizing the attack. In those four games, all in the knockout stages of the last two, Belgium have only 2.9 xG total and 1.8 of those are against Italy in 2021. Leaving the full-backs out back, and suddenly they became blunt. Canada’s wingers must be licking their pieces.

However, Belgium have been “circling” for a while and will need only a few comebacks to reach the semi-finals or even the final. If they win the group, they will eliminate a very weak opponent in Group E be it Germany, Spain, Mexico or Japan. Get over that and it could be Portugal or Uruguay or Serbia or Switzerland or Cameroon, unless something silly happens to Brazil in the group stage. If they do not win the top of the group, then it is likely that Brazil will have to wait in the quarterfinals.

However, it will be a question of how Martinez will balance his damned torpedo tactics with a defense that is aging by the second, if anyone thinks Martinez will worry about that. It would be great if a strong team won the trophy, but that rarely happens. And it will be an interesting study to see how they deal with aggressive Canadian full-backs on the counter, much less Portugal or Germany.

They won’t be the only ones worried about growing old at certain points, because Croatia still carrying wise old minds like Luka Modrić, Ivan Perišić and Dejan Lovren. If momentum is a thing (it’s not), then Croatia will have it going in this tournament, as the last four Nations League games saw them twice 3-0-1 lead over Denmark, France and Austria.

While the defense may need some improvement, the midfield is set up with Modric, Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović. Mario Pašilić started in third in attack, but the remaining two positions up front were sorted through a series of picks. No striker seizes their chance with both hands.

But no matter what you think Croatia’s problem is – forward uncertainty or some defensive questions – neither team comes together the way Croatia seems to be doing.

We all like to think Canada just here to party, because the last thing anyone needs are distracted Leafs fans having fun, even for a few weeks, but this group may well be prepared for the Hosers to cause an uproar. other surprises like they did in qualifying. The world doesn’t need to know more about Alphonso Davies on the counter-attack, but with the combination of Tajon Buchanan and Jonathan David in the midfield, they can easily instill fear in an aging and exposed defence like Belgium and a defense as fragile as Croatia. Or Cyle Larin, their top scorer in qualifying, could pair David with Davies behind, who showed this style in a friendly against Uruguay in September. How far can Canada go. Going further will probably depend on how well their midfield duo Stephen Estáquio and Samuel Piette/Richie Lareya can deal with the solid midfield they will see in the group stage. If they can’t provide a warm-up platform for Canada’s strikers, they’ll go home before the postcards. If they keep their form, this team will have enough speed and spirit to produce results that will surprise some. We know they will be playing at home tactically in the games against Belgium and Croatia as both sides will likely have more possession of the ball, and Canada has circled both Mexico and the US without the ball and reacted. labour. The sight of one of those two teams trying to chase Canada when they’re countered would be good for a chuckle

Maroc, In time, you realize that having your best players is probably a good idea for the World Cup. So they got rid of the manager that made Hakim Ziyech leave the national team, hiring Walid Regragrui, who immediately welcomed Ziyech back. That means Ziyech is back to combine with Achraf Hakimi on the right flank, with Ziyech plugging in and leaving all the space for Hakimi to cross. Morocco will find plenty of teams looking to swap full-backs with them, with Hakimi on the right and Munich’s Noussair Mazraoui on the other side (though his natural side is also on the right but needs to be). Sofyan Amrabat is a very good anchor in midfield, and Sofiane Boufal on Ziyech’s left flank has the potential to really become a rather sexy part of the attack. They won’t be a pushover in this group.

Most likely the coach received a red card

Croatia’s Zlatko Dalić, for being just damn handsome.

best jerseys

I’ve always loved the look of Croatia’s chessboard, but this time was different. their away jersey That’s really the boss.


Wednesday, November 23 – Morocco v. Croatia (5am EST), Belgium v. Canada (2 p.m. EST)

Sunday, November 27 – Belgium v ​​Morocco (8 a.m. EST), Croatia v Canada (11 a.m. EST)

Thursday, December 1 – Belgium v ​​Croatia, Canada v Morocco (10 a.m. EST)


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