Two of 2018’s most impressive sides are paired together with a Concacaf upstart and an African foe that changed coaches this past summer.
Had the World Cup semifinals played out a little differently four years ago, we’d be looking at a rematch of the 2018 final. As it stands, Group F features the runner-up (Croatia) and the third-place finisher (Belgium) from Russia—and both teams return with their cores largely intact. Belgium will once again rely on 31-year-old playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and 29-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku, who have led their country to the top of the FIFA world rankings (Belgium is currently No. 2)—but never to a trophy.
Croatia is also led by a familiar face: 37-year-old Luka Modrić, who won the Golden Ball as the best player in the 2018 tournament, during which his side won three dramatic knockout-stage games that either went to extra time or penalties.
At the other end of the spectrum is Canada, an exciting young team making just its second World Cup appearance. (The first came in 1986.) The pace and final-third proficiency of Lille forward Jonathan David and Bayern Munich fullback Alphonso Davies will present problems for any opponent.
Morocco’s presence has been widely overlooked, but following a coaching change in August, the side should be boosted by the return of its star winger, Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech.
The Canada hype train is welcoming all passengers. No team in Concacaf qualifying scored more and conceded fewer goals than Canada, which topped the table. A win or a draw against Belgium or Croatia could throw this group into disarray, and the Canadians are fully capable of stealing a point—or even three—off both teams.
Canada’s Nov. 27 game against Croatia should have added meaning for goalkeeper Milan Borjan. He was born in Knin, Yugoslavia, now part of Croatia. His Serbian family fled during the Croatian War of Independence in 1995, eventually settling in Ontario.
GAME OF THE GROUP
Croatia vs. Belgium, Dec. 1
After each side came so close to World Cup glory in 2018, Belgium’s high-octane attack will meet Croatia’s gritty midfield engine in the final group-stage match.
PROJECTED GROUP FINISH
Belgium, Croatia, Canada, Morocco
ODDS (via SI Sportsbook)
To win the group (-163) | To win the World Cup (+1800)
To win the group (+220) | To win the World Cup (+3500)
To win the group (+750) | To win the World Cup (+30000)
To win the group (+1000) | To win the World Cup (+30000)