Belgium go head-to-head with Morocco in their second group game on Sunday lunchtime.
Roberto Martinez bluntly admitted: “Canada were better than us,” after watching Belgium squeak a 1-0 win against the spirited Canucks. In Morocco, the Red Devils are poised to face another well-drilled outfit itching to cause an upset.
Croatia’s coach, Zlatko Dalic, described the north African side as “extremely well prepared and courageous” in the aftermath of a hard-fought 0-0. Walid Regragui revelled in the fact that his side “played like a European team” and has the continent’s highest-ranked nation in his crosshairs this weekend.
Here’s everything you need to know about an intriguing matchup.
Belgium vs Morocco H2H Results (All Time)
Current Form (Last Five Games)
Belgium team news
Romelu Lukaku watched Belgium’s opener from the stands – although the pain writ large across his face may have been more reflective of the events on the pitch rather than the muscular injury which sidelined him.
The Inter striker has returned to individual training and may be ready for the final group game against Croatia according to his manager. However, Martinez added: “If I go by how the player feels, there’s probably a chance to have him back for the second match [against Morocco].”
With his sights set on a deep run in this competition, Martinez may not risk the nation’s record goalscorer before he is fully fit.
Belgium Starting 11 (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Dendoncker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Meunier, Witsel, Tielemans, Castagne; De Bruyne, E Hazard; Batshuayi.
Bench: Mignolet, Casteels, Theate, Faes, Debast, T Hazard, Onana, Vanaken, Carrasco, Mertens, Trossard, De Ketelaere, Openda, Doku, Lukaku.
Morocco team news
Noussair Mazraoui was stretchered off an hour into Morocco’s stalemate with Croatia after landing heavily on his hip. While it’s unlikely he will have recovered by Sunday, initial reports suggest the damage isn’t as severe as first feared.
Morocco Starting 11 (4-3-3): Bounou; Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, Allah; Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah; Ziyech, En-Nesyri, Boufal.
Bench: Munir, Tagnaouti, El Yamiq, Dari, Benoun, Jabrane, Sabiri, Chair, El Khannouss, Zaroury, Abde, Aboukhlal, Hamdallah, Cheddira.
Belgium have won their last eight World Cup group-stage matches, equalling Brazil’s record streak. In fact, the Red Devils haven’t suffered defeat before the knockout round since losing to Saudi Arabia in 1994.
The world number two may have laboured to victory but Martinez was keen to point towards a classic piece of perceived football wisdom post-match. “When a team can win a game without playing well, it’s a lot to build on.”
That reasoning may not hold up over a league season but in tournament football points trump performance. Whether Belgium can improve upon their shaky display against Canada remains to be seen but they may just pick up another victory regardless.
Prediction: Belgium 2-1 Morocco