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Qatar World Cup – Group F Preview

Group F has two mainstays of major tournaments in the modern era, an African outfit boasting a plethora of stars from the lofty heights of the European stage and a Canadian team with a bit between their teeth. It proposes to be one of Qatar’s most competitive quartets.

However, there’s not one bookmaker offering Belgium at a price above evens to win the group. So, perhaps your hard-earned money is best off elsewhere.

Belgium
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Now, you won’t have to remind anyone in Belgium about this, but the Belgian national team has qualified for the most World Cups (14) without ever winning the competition – no European team has attended as many World Cups without claiming the trophy.

Romelu Lukaku’s five goals in four matches takes the title of Belgium’s most clinical in qualifying. Considering the Inter Milan forward only featured in four games (3.7 90s), that’s incredibly impressive. In his brief but impactful period, Lukaku registered 4.59 shots per90, with 2.16 finding the target.

Make no bones about it, Lukaku will be pivotal to any successful assault on the World Cup’s latter stages. The Belgian hitman is working his way back from injury after leaving a sizable void in the Inter Milan forward line. Without him, Croatia, Canada and Mexico will be licking their lips. Nevertheless, Belgium will be desperate for his services, that’s for sure, given that only Cristiano Ronaldo (13) has scored more goals at major tournaments since Lukaku’s (11) first appearance at the 2014 edition.

Wales and the Czech Republic offered the fading golden generation the toughest competition in the qualifying stages. Yet, neither could register a win against the Belgians, who navigated their path to Qatar without a loss. Both did, however, manage to record a draw against Roberto Martinez’s men.

A name quite likely not on the lips of football fans throughout the globe, but one that stood up to be counted for Belgium during qualifying was Hans Vanaken. Club Brugge’s central midfielder chipped in with 1.43 G+A per90, claiming the most goal contributions (7) in a squad littered with names such as Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard.

Croatia
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At 37 years young, Luka Modric is still pulling the strings in Croatia’s national team set-up. The Real Madrid man averaged 2.1 key passes per game. Five goal contributions in seven matches suggest there’s no slowing down for the central midfielder, who will line up next to Mateo Kovačić in the heart of midfield in November.

Highlighting the longevity on show, Luka Modric can become the first player to play in the European Championships and the World Cup across three decades. His 25 outings for Croatia in major tournaments ranks number one for Croatia.

It’s doubtful that any England fans will want to reminisce, yet Croatia made it to the final in Russia four years ago. Croatia set up a showdown at England’s expense with a France squad that was ultimately too strong. The Qatari World Cup will be Croatia’s sixth competing for the Jules Rimet trophy, reaching the semi-final stage on two occasions.

The eye-catching area of Croatia’s route to Qatar came at the back. Only Denmark pieced together more clean sheets than the Croat’s seven in Europe. The four goals conceded also ranked them amongst the continent’s sturdiest. If Croatia can keep it tight at the back throughout the World Cup and call upon a stacked midfield to impose themselves in games, that should offer them the foundations for a successful tournament.

In forward areas, in the absence of a Mario Mandžukić-type striker, Ivan Perišić, Mario Pašalić, and Modric combined with three goals each in qualification, sharing the spoils in a squad lacking a real goal scoring threat at international level. Being robust and hard to beat is one thing, but if you can’t outscore the likes of Belgium, the World Cup could pass Croatia by.

Canada
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Emphatic scenes ensued in Canada and beyond as John Herdman’s national team quelled the first of a 36-year drought by qualifying for Canada’s first FIFA World Cup since 1986.

And they did it in style. During an imposing qualifying campaign, the Canadians scored the most goals (23 in 14), conceded the fewest (7), and ended up level on points with a Mexican outfit that pushed them every step of the way.

Peculiarly for a winning nation, Canada managed to record the most goals whilst taking only 9.90 shots per90 on average, less than four other sides, including Panama and Honduras. From that, we can gauge that Herdman’s ensemble is lethal when needed, promoting patience in the final third.

Cyle Larin led the charge from the front, scoring six goals from 6.3xG. The next best was Jonathon David, who wasn’t far off. The Lille forward’s five strikes saw him finish level with the USA’s Cristian Pulišić in the goal scoring rankings.

Canada won’t be in Qatar to make up the numbers, though the bookmakers have them doing just that at 14/1 to win the group. For the Canadians to qualify alongside three strong nations? That’s just over 4/1 if you’re brave enough. For John Herdman, deep down, he’ll likely see the World Cup as an exercise in gaining the experience and know-how at a major tournament.

Morocco
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Morocco scored twenty goals in Group I of CAF qualification. The haul was split evenly between the first and second halves of games, scoring ten apiece. In truth, they should be strolling through a quartet consisting of themselves, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Sudan. And they did.

El Kaabi hit five goals, outperforming the 2.5xG hugely. Mmaee reached four, and Amallah ended on two strikes – the three top goalscorers in the group, showcasing the dominance expected from minute one.

It was a similar story for most of the metrics in Group I, as four of the top six for Key Passes, for example, boasted a Moroccan player. Incidentally, it was Sofiane Boufal topped the key passing charts, a 2.31 per90 total enough to surpass the rest.

Next up, a two-legged playoff to decide World Cup qualification with DR Congo. A 1-1 draw away from home painted the backdrop to a dominating 4-1 display on home soil. Morocco were rarely threatened in qualifying, though that will change in Qatar.

With an array of stars within Morocco’s ranks playing on the European stage; Achraf Hakimi, Sofyan Amrabat, Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd, and Youssef En-Nesyri, to name a few, don’t assume that one of Africa’s best will be bullied into submission. Whether they have enough to compete, well, that’s a different question entirely.

Best Bet

This is an interesting group and there isn’t a great deal between Croatia, Morocco and Canada if those are to be the three nations fighting for second as expected.

Canada are the least fancied nation to advance which will simply come down to their lack of experience on the international stage. With that said, and if you’re looking purely from a value standpoint, they aren’t the worst bet to go through.

They take on Belgium first and have freedom as that’s a game they’re expected to lose. Once that’s over with, and it’d be amazing if they got something, they’ll know where they stand with the two competitive matches.

The Canadians went through World Cup qualifying as a side hard to break down and beat. They suffered the fewest defeats and boasted the strongest defence. With a talented pool of players including Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin, expect them to compete.

Outright

Group F – Canada to qualify

Calendar 23rd November
Football icon kick off at 10:00
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How and where to watch each match:

MOR vs CRO – 23rd November – 10:00 (ITV)

BEL vs CAN – 23rd November – 19:00 (BBC One)

BEL vs MOR – 27th November – 13:00 (BBC One)

CRO vs CAN – 27th November – 16:00 (BBC One)

CRO vs BEL – 1st December – 15:00 (BBC TBC)

CAN vs MOR – 1st December – 15:00 (BBC TBC)

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