Pre-tournament, Belgium were being tipped to go far at the World Cup with this likely being their Golden Generation’s last chance of claiming gold, and they were pretty strong favourites for Group F. But the Red Devils were brought back down to earth ever so slightly in their opening game. Sure, Belgium still got the 1-0 win over Canada thanks to Michy Batshuayi’s first-half effort, but Roberto Martinez’s men were thoroughly outplayed by their North American opponents.
In the first half, before taking the lead, Belgium had Thibaut Courtois to thank for keeping them in the game as he saved a penalty from Alphonso Davies in the opening 10 minutes and was the calmest head in the Red Devils team. His performance helped Belgium secure three points and an eighth consecutive World Cup group stage win, tying Brazil’s record in the men’s tournament. A ninth consecutive win would not only seal the record outright but also confirm Belgium’s spot in the knockout stages.
The group’s other game saw Morocco take on Croatia, runners-up in 2018 who were tipped to join Belgium in the last 16 at this year’s tournament. Morocco, on the other hand, have only made it out of the group stage once in their five World Cup appearances so far and had lost nine of their 15 matches prior to Qatar.
But the North African side frustrated their European counterparts with a fine defensively display. Already faring better than they did at this stage of the 2018 World Cup, when they lost their opening game to Iran, Morocco will be hoping they can build on the draw and claim their first World Cup victory since beating Scotland 3-0 in June 1998.
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One of the reasons Morocco were able to secure a point against Croatia was down to their excellent defence. Morocco restricted their opponents to just six shots throughout the match, with no efforts at all after the 51st minute. At the same time, we saw Belgium struggle against Canada with just three of their nine attempts hitting the target – and their numbers only increased with Canada opening up to chase the draw.
Hakim Ziyech is often seen as the man to rescue Morocco in attack, but in their opening game against Croatia he struggled and committed more fouls than he created chances. While Ziyech set up his teammates on two occasions, the Chelsea man committed four fouls with only two players conceding more across the World Cup group stage so far.