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.
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In their final group stage test, the Moroccans will play Canada, who will be looking to bag their first win in the tournament’s history after being eliminated from their first World Cup in 36 years.
A win or draw would help Morocco to their first appearance in the round of 16 of since 1986. If Canada prevail, Morocco will need Belgium to beat Croatia in the other Group F match, with the goal difference determining if they or the 2018 runners-up advance.
“If we get through to the knockout stage, I think we will be very dangerous going forward,” Moroccan manager Walid Regragui said ahead of their win against Belgium.
Morocco unexpectedly changed goalkeepers at the last moment before kickoff against Belgium as Munir El Kajoui came on to replace Yassine Bounou. A team doctor later said that Bounou had felt dizzy but would be fit to play against Canada.
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.
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.