The World Cup Preview: Group F

Group F hosts an interesting dynamic, with an underachieving golden generations last chance at glory, an ageing runners up, an exciting attacking philosophy and a rejuvenated African side shook by a late managerial change. With this in mind, Group F is silently going around as potentially one of the best groups of the opening stages.

The Red Devils of Belgium have enjoyed a golden era, with a number of top class players covering each position over the last decade or so. However, the selection pool isn’t quite as fruitful as it once was, with players now retired as well as coming to the end of their peak at this level. The squad still boasts recognisable names such as Eden Hazard, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Aldeweireld but they are far from their peak. The Belgians still bolster plenty of talent within their squad, with arguably the best player in world football Kevin De Bruyne the star man. Belgium coasted their way to qualification, going unbeaten in their eight games as expected, with them expected to do the same in the group stages.

Player to Watch: Kevin De Bruyne

One of the finest players on the planet, Kevin de Bruyne has been one of the best midfielders in the world for quite some time now. Taking to the stage this World Cup, he is Belgium’s poster boy and best hope for them winning the whole tournament. De Bruyne can make magic out of anything and can unlock defences with precise passing whilst remaining a goal threat himself. Not only the star of this Belgium team or group F but the tournament as a whole.

Croatia shocked the world as darkhorses in the 2018 World Cup, finishing as runners up in Russia. A talented and hard working squad, Croatia have a similar feeling to Belgium, with a golden era coming to an end. The Croats also topped their group with their squad still providing consistent performances, with Zlatko Dalic’ side only losing once in the last year. Croatia also have the uniqueness of bridging the Old Firm, with both sides represented through Borna Barisic (Rangers) and Josep Juranovic (Celtic).

Player to Watch: Luka Modric

What a treat for Group F to have arguably the two best central midfielders in the world squaring off against one another. In what is likely to be his last World Cup, Luka Modric will look to continue to defy the odds with this Croatia team. The Real Madrid stars’ experience will be crucial, with the midfielder capable of creating something special out of nothing which has been on show these past few tournaments.

Perhaps one of the tournaments dark horses are Canada, the first side to qualify from the CONCACAF section. Playing in their first tournament since 1986, the Canadians were very impressive in making Qatar as a free flowing attacking side. The Canadians have an abundance of pace which makes them a threat going forward, whilst also being able to recover in defence, a quality that could see them become a surprise package. An unknown quantity for most of the world due to the country’s presence being more established in other sports, the Canadians will be looking to make an impact, even if that is just scoring their first World Cup.

Player to Watch: Cyle Larin

The top goalscorer in CONCACAF, Cyle Larin may be unknown for many due to him plying his trade in Turkey and now Belgium. The forward was joint top scorer last season for Besiktas as they won the league, with his 13 goals helping Canada qualify, making him the country’s top goalscorer of all time too. With more high profile names such as Alphonso Davies and Johnathan David taking the global spotlight, Larin is one who could play a pivotal role in Canada advancing in the tournament. 

Lastly, Morocco have had a strange journey to this World Cup. In qualification, they had to make do without a number of key players from the 2018 squad, but managed to come through strong with a host of new talent blended in with those now experienced players. Vahid Halilhodzic was able to get Morocco to qualify comfortably but a fallout with main player Hakim Ziyech saw the Bosnian lose his job in August. It is yet to be seen as to what effect this will have on the side, with new manager Walid Regragui yet to manage a competitive game. With that, it’s not ideal preparation for a tournament, albeit going unbeaten in four friendlies back in September. 

Player to Watch: Hakim Ziyech

Due to the drama between himself and the previous manager, Ziyech really has to step up this tournament. He’ll be sure to want to prove his former manager wrong and show his worth in the national team, even despite a lacklustre couple of years at club level. On his day, Ziyech is a dangerous player and will look to return to heights he showed in his Ajax days, with Morocco needing their star player to step up should they not want an early exit.

Predictions: The two European sides will be expected to advance, with more quality running throughout their team, with notable world class stars too. However, don’t rule out the Canadians just yet who will be looking to cause an upset as they return to the big stage. Due to this, I’m going to have Canada pip Croatia through in Group F, with Belgium as winners and Morocco sitting at the foot of the group. We love a World Cup shock and last times runners up going out in the group stages would satisfy that, although they are more than capable of making it deep into the tournament.

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