Belgium has lost form at a terrible time at the World Cup with their place in the last 16 at risk against Croatia, but Eden Hazard still believes in their quality.
The Red Devils were out of sorts in beating Canada 1-0 and were duly punished in their second match against Morocco, losing 2-0.
That defeat ended a 13-game unbeaten run in group-stage games at the finals, although they have not lost consecutive such matches since a sequence of three in a row across the 1982 and 1986 tournaments.
Another reverse against Croatia – who impressed in crushing Canada – would see them eliminated, while a draw may not be enough either.
“We have to do better, we cannot deliver the performance we want [right now],” said captain Hazard, who also skippered Belgium to the semi-finals four years ago.
“We have to show it on the pitch, that is what counts. We still have quality in the group and are here to win.
“We lack confidence because of that last pass and that last dribble. We have to regain that confidence.”
That lack of confidence is particularly evident in the final third, with Belgium netting with just one of 19 shots. That conversion rate of 5.3% is their lowest at finals since converting only three of 93 attempts in 1982 (3.2%).
Concerningly, Croatia has had no such issues of late, with their four goals against Canada tying their World Cup record for a single match (also vs. Cameroon in 2014).
The 2018 finalists have also won four of their past five group-stage matches, drawing the other, and their only defeats to fellow European nations in 10 World Cup meetings have been to France – in both 1998 and 2018.
The Checkered Ones were initially made to work for the three points, with Alphonso Davies heading Canada in front after just 67 seconds, but Andrej Kramaric and Marko Livaja both netted towards the end of the first half to turn the game on its head.
Kramaric then tucked away his second of the match 20 minutes from time before Lovro Majer came off the bench to wrap up the three points in added time and put Croatia in control of Group F.
Indeed, Zlatko Dalic’s side now sits at the summit of their group with four points, narrowly above Morocco in second on goals scored, and the 2018 World Cup runners-up require just a draw against Belgium to book their place in the knockout rounds. A victory, meanwhile, would guarantee a top spot if Morocco fails to beat Canada by a greater goal margin than the Checkered Ones.
Croatia, ranked 12th in the world by FIFA, boasts a strong run of form heading into Thursday’s contest, as they are unbeaten in their last eight matches across all competitions, while they have also lost only one of their last 18 internationals since Euro 2020.
The Balkan nation has not beaten Belgium since securing a 1-0 friendly victory in 2010, but spirits are high within the Croatian camp and Dalic and co will feel they have a strong chance of capitalizing on the poor form that Thursday’s counterparts are struggling to shake off.
Croatia’s possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Kramaric, Livaja, Perisic
Belgium’s possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Castagne, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Carrasco; De Bruyne, E. Hazard; Batshuayi
Players to Watch
Croatia: Andrej Kramarić
Kramarić was in inspired form against Canada, scoring twice before being substituted 17 minutes from time when he surely would have backed himself for a hat-trick. It was only the second World Cup brace by a Croatia player (also Mario Mandzukic vs. Cameroon in 2014).
Through two matches, he leads the team in shots (five) and xG with his 1.05 mark accounting for a third of Croatia’s total:
Belgium: Romelu Lukaku
Lukaku has appeared for only nine minutes as a substitute so far in this tournament, but it is surely time for Belgium to turn to their main man. He has scored all three of the Red Devils’ goals across their past two meetings with Croatia – both of which they have won.
But the reality is we’re highlighting a man with three touches at this tournament, and none of them have come in the penalty area:
Croatia vs. Belgium Prediction
This is one of the most finely balanced matches of the tournament so far, according to the supercomputer. While Belgium is the marginal favorite, given a 37.2% chance of winning, Croatia is just behind by 36.5%.
Does that make a draw most likely? That result, which suits Croatia far better than Belgium, is rated at 26.3%.
Croatia to win the match.