Croatia vs Belgium Prediction
1st December 2022
18:00 Qatar Time/15:00 GMT
Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
World Cup Head-to-Head Record
Croatia vs Belgium Prediction Match Overview
Croatia vs Belgium promises to be a truly fascinating encounter. With everything still to play for in Group F, Belgium know that they will, in all likelihood, be required to beat the Croatians here to book their passage to the last 16. Belgium should consider themselves to be fortunate to be within touching distance of this goal, as they were outplayed and outclassed for much of their 1-0 victory over Canada in their group opener. The Belgians were arguably even worse in a 2-0 reverse against Morocco, during which the Belgians rarely threatened.
Croatia started slowly against Morocco in their opening game for a 0-0 draw which perhaps doesn’t look quite so terrible now. Some Croatians must have feared the worst after Canada raced into a 1-0 lead, however, Croatia produced an excellent performance to see off the Canadians with four unanswered goals and they appeared dangerous every time they marauded forward. Croatia need a positive result here to secure qualification, or they will be relying upon an eliminated Canada to do them a favour against Morocco.
Injuries and Suspensions
Might not play:
Will not play: Onana (Belgium)
Croatia vs Belgium Prediction Analysis
Andre Onana is suspended for this match after picking up two yellow cards in consecutive matches, so we expect Youri Tielemans to be recalled despite his poor performance in Belgium’s group opener against Canada. Thorgan Hazard may have done enough to retain his place ahead of Yannick Carrasco, but Carrasco offers the greater attacking threat and Belgium will need to push for the victory here. The likes of Eden Hazard and Michy Batshuayi were noticeably poor, and we think that Romelu Lukaku and Leandro Trossard will start in their places as Belgium have no more room for sentimentality.
We expect Croatia to remain unchanged here due to the impressive fluidity of their attack and they won’t want to experiment with other options in such a huge game. While a draw will be enough for Croatia to progress, it’s not a strategy they should or would want to rely upon, because a late goal for the Belgians would change everything.
This area will be crucial for both teams, and the Belgians need to improve vastly here as they’ve been uncharacteristically underwhelming in this area of the pitch throughout the tournament. Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans have all been relatively poor throughout and Andre Onana, Belgium’s bright spark in midfield in the group opener against Canada, is unavailable due to suspension. Belgium will need to work this out quickly if they’re to avoid being outplayed in the middle of the park.
The reason why Belgium need to improve so desperately is rather obvious; Croatia possess one of the finest, if not the finest, central midfield units in the tournament with high-class operators in the timeless Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic. With the passing and off-ball movement the Croatians have here, they can retain possession well in midfield and advance centrally which isn’t a strategy that’s viable with many teams in the modern pressing/counter-pressing era of football. If Belgium are to stand a chance of winning here, they need to disrupt the Croatians as often as possible and get De Bruyne on the ball in more advanced areas. So far, the Manchester City man has had a relatively poor tournament but he could easily come alive at any moment.
The Wide Areas
While we appreciate that much of the focus so far has been upon what the Belgians have failed to do so far in the tournament, again Belgium must provide a real threat from wide positions, providing outlets for attacks. Although Kevin De Bruyne has been disappointing thus far, it’s fair to say that much of the time, except for Batshuayi trying to make a few runs, he hasn’t had much to work with. Whoever Belgium select at the wing-back positions, they need to be marauding forward in this win-or-go-home scenario.
Croatia can be fairly pleased so far with their wide men, with Ivan Perisic impressing against the Canadians and Andrej Kramaric putting in a better performance on the right-hand side of their forward three in a re-jigged formation. Juranovic and Sosa are considered to be defensively responsible and will need to be at their best should Belgium rediscover their attacking potency.
While Batshuayi’s well-taken first-time finish from a long Alderweireld pass was enough to see off Canada, Batshuayi toiled against the Moroccan defence with little to show for it and we can expect the timely introduction of Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku has had a torrid time with injuries this season but at this point in his career is a known quantity and represents a significant upgrade up front. With Lukaku a more able and willing runner than Batshuayi and a better finisher to boot, Belgium will feel more confident with playing the ball directly to the target man who is also adept at bringing others into play.
Croatia’s switch in attack which saw Vlasic dropped for Marko Livaja worked wonders against the Canadians and we imagine that they will stick with the same front three this time around. Kramaric was able to get involved with the run of play far more often last time out, and Perisic was playing as an out-and-out winger, where some would argue that the Spurs’ man is at his most effective and dangerous. Croatia will be hoping that this fluid interplay between their new-found front three is as fruitful as last time against a creaking Belgian defence which hasn’t looked solid at all during the tournament.
Croatia Key Players
The reasoning here is simple – Belgium have to go for it, they will have to commit their wingbacks forward an awful lot and, besides the now-suspended Onana, Belgium have looked easy to play through. This surely will leave acres of space for the wide men such as Perisic to operate in, and Perisic has always had a reliable end-product when afforded time and space. This seems like the perfect match for the Spurs’ wide man to demonstrate his quality and Belgium will need to cover him with the likes of Witsel and Alderweireld, provided that they are up to the challenge.
Brozovic will be required to snuff out danger, not only from the obvious central midfield suspect in Kevin De Bruyne but also from their advanced wide men. It’s vital for Croatia’s chances that they don’t allow the Belgians to create overloads in wide areas and Brozovic possesses the positional intelligence to track runners when required. Going forward, Croatia will want to attack directly and with precision as Belgium appear to be weakest when they lose possession in advanced areas. Brozovic has a nice range of passing to complement his defensive game and is also adept at making decisions when recycling possession.
Belgium Key Players
Kevin De Bruyne
Belgium are in desperate need of inspiration, and they’ll once again be turning to their World Class playmaker to find some. Despite a poor start to the tournament, the Belgians aren’t done yet, but they require their midfield talisman to produce something approaching his club form. At his best, De Bruyne can be described as the ultimate roaming playmaker, looking to get himself on the ball from deep positions where he can drive at the opposition while trying to spot opportunities for both himself and others while on the move. Though this hasn’t transpired thus far, the Croatians will be mindful of his ability.
Belgium looked particularly blunt in attack last time out against Morocco, and they will hope that Romelu Lukaku can play 60-75 minutes here to give them a better physical presence and a cutting edge that has been sorely lacking. Lukaku, perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, is at his best when running onto the ball and this suits Kevin De Bruyne’s game. Lukaku can be relied upon to stretch the defence even if he’s having a poor game himself, and it’s this work rate combined with the added ability to do traditional target-man-like things that Belgium will most be looking forward to having back.
Croatia vs Belgium Prediction
There are many ifs and buts with this match preview; perhaps too many if you ask us. While Belgium may find another couple of gears to produce the kind of performance they desperately need, we can only go on what we’ve seen so far from the two sides. What we’ve seen so far suggests that Croatia will control the midfield and hurt the Belgians in the channels. There’s just not enough evidence to suggest that Belgium can improve to the degree that they need to, and therefore it’s a Croatia win for us.