Everything you need to know about Group F at the World Cup

Belgium

Croatia

Canada

Morocco

Canada

Morocco

Croatia

Belgium

Croatia

Canada

Morocco

Belgium

Canada

Morocco

Croatia

Belgium

At first glance — or a glance based purely on FIFA’s rankings — this group doesn’t seem to be too much of a test for a team such as Belgium, now the No. 2 squad in the world after a long run atop the list. None of the other three members of the group is ranked higher than No. 12. There’s more than meets the eye in Group F, though. Canada, in its first World Cup in more than 30 years, is ready to make some noise. Morocco made a run at the latest Africa Cup of Nations. And despite Belgium’s high ranking, there’s only one team here with recent experience in a World Cup final: Croatia, the 2018 runner-up.

Here’s a closer look at Group F, which kicks off Nov. 23 when Morocco faces Croatia and Canada takes on Belgium.

Belgium

In Roberto Martínez’s six years in charge, the Red Devils earned a best-ever third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup and held the No. 1 spot in FIFA’s rankings for more than three years, all while regularly featuring several of the world’s best players. But a trophy has proved elusive. In what’s likely its final run at a major tournament, is this the year for Belgium’s “Golden Generation” to finally claim, well, its gold?

Belgium

in the World Cup

Belgium’s best showing in World Cup history was in 2018, when it finished third.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

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Belgium

in the World Cup

Belgium’s best showing in World Cup history was in 2018, when it finished third.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Belgium

in the World Cup

Belgium’s best showing in World Cup history was in 2018, when it finished third.

Champion

Final

Semifinals

Quarterfinals

Round of 16

Group stage

Did not

participate

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

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’02

’06

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’18

Belgium has long hovered around the top tier of the world’s biggest sport — an impressive feat for a country roughly the size of Maryland. Its latest crop of talent has reached new highs, defeating England in the third-place match in Russia four years ago. Belgium is the only nation to sit atop FIFA’s rankings without winning the World Cup or a continental title — it owned the top spot from September 2018 until March 2022, when Brazil took over.

After exiting the European Championship last summer in the quarterfinals, the Belgians qualified for Qatar by winning UEFA’s Group E, seeing five goals from star striker Romelu Lukaku and at least two goals from six other players. Since that occasion in November 2021, though, they’ve had a bit of a rocky stretch, with a pair of defeats to the Netherlands in the past two UEFA Nations League windows.

Coach

Roberto

Martínez

Projected lineup

Y. Carrasco

J. Vertonghen

E. Hazard

A. Witsel

T. Alderweireld

R. Lukaku

T. Courtois

Y. Tielemans

Z. Debast

K. De Bruyne

T. Meunier

Coach

Roberto Martínez

Projected lineup

Y. Carrasco

J. Vertonghen

E. Hazard

A. Witsel

T. Alderweireld

R. Lukaku

T. Courtois

Y. Tielemans

Z. Debast

K. De Bruyne

T. Meunier

Projected lineup

Y. Carrasco

J. Vertonghen

E. Hazard

A. Witsel

T. Alderweireld

R. Lukaku

T. Courtois

Y. Tielemans

Z. Debast

K. De Bruyne

Coach

Roberto Martínez

49 years old

T. Meunier

The group that led Belgium to the semifinals in Russia has stayed mostly intact for this year’s tournament. Captain Eden Hazard, who earned the Silver Ball as the World Cup’s second-best player in 2018, has struggled to find his footing at Real Madrid since a move there in 2019 yet remains a key figure on the national team. Striker Romelu Lukaku is battling injuries but is the country’s leading scorer (68 goals) and is fresh off a return to Inter Milan this summer, which he led to a Serie A crown in 2021. Questions remain about an aging back line, but goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois — the Golden Glove winner at the 2018 World Cup — proved in Real Madrid’s Champions League run last year that he’s still a force.

The star

Kevin De Bruyne

31 years old, Ghent, Belgium

Manchester

City

National

team stats

93

games

25

goals

The star

Kevin De Bruyne

31 years old, Ghent, Belgium

Manchester City

National

team stats

93

games

25

goals

The star

Kevin De Bruyne

31 years old, Ghent, Belgium

Manchester City

National team stats

93

25

games

goals

With Hazard seeing limited minutes in his club season thus far and Lukaku’s availability for the World Cup uncertain because of injuries, much of Belgium’s hopes will fall on the shoulders of Kevin De Bruyne. The 31-year-old midfielder, who has won four Premier League titles starring for Manchester City, wasn’t in peak form at Euro 2020 but remains one of the best players in the world. The defending Premier League player of the year arrives in Qatar in good form, and his versatility could power the Belgians beyond the group stage.

Canada

If Belgium’s “Golden Generation” is nearing the end of its run, it seems as if Canada’s is just beginning. The northern nation’s young stars have brought their country back onto the international stage, qualifying for the World Cup for only the second time in history and first since 1986.

Canada

in the World Cup

Qatar will be Canada’s second World Cup.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Canada

in the World Cup

Qatar will be Canada’s second World Cup.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Canada

in the World Cup

Qatar will be Canada’s second World Cup.

Champion

Final

Semifinals

Quarterfinals

Round of 16

Group stage

Did not

participate

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Three years ago this fall, Canada recorded a historic 2-0 win over the United States — its first victory over its American rival since 1985. Since then, the upward progress has continued: John Herdman has led Canada from 72nd in the FIFA rankings to as high as 33rd this February. (Les Rouges currently hold the No. 41 spot on FIFA’s list, trailing the three other Concacaf sides in the World Cup after a bumpy June window that included a loss to Honduras and two canceled games.)

The Canadians finished atop the Concacaf qualifying table, recording eight wins in the 14-game final round and defeating the United States again Jan. 30. A pair of friendlies in September against Qatar (a 2-0 win) and Uruguay (a 2-0 loss) were their first against non-Concacaf opponents since a January 2020 match against Iceland. Canada hasn’t beaten a European opponent since Belarus in 2011, and its last win over a South American squad was against Colombia in 2000.

Coach

John

Herdman

Projected lineup

S. Adekugbe

K. Miller

J. David

S. Eustáquio

S. Vitória

A. Davies

M. Borjan

A. Hutchinson

C. Larin

A. Johnston

T. Buchanan

Coach

John Herdman

Projected lineup

S. Adekugbe

K. Miller

J. David

S. Eustáquio

S. Vitória

A. Davies

M. Borjan

A. Hutchinson

C. Larin

A. Johnston

T. Buchanan

Projected lineup

S. Adekugbe

K. Miller

J. David

S. Eustáquio

S. Vitória

A. Davies

M. Borjan

A. Hutchinson

C. Larin

A. Johnston

Coach

John Herdman

47 years old

T. Buchanan

Two of the top three scorers during the final round of Concacaf qualifying came from Canada: winger Cyle Larin (six goals) and forward Jonathan David (five). Larin, who spent three seasons in MLS before moving overseas, is the national team’s all-time leading scorer. David, 22, is widely regarded as one of the top young attacking talents in Europe after two standout campaigns with Lille in France. Tajon Buchanan, a 23-year-old winger who plays with Larin at Club Brugge, was an all-star talent across three seasons in MLS and earned best young player honors at last year’s Gold Cup.

The star

Alphonso Davies

21 years old, Buduburam, Ghana

Bayern Munich

National team stats

34

12

games

goals

The star

Alphonso Davies

21 years old, Buduburam, Ghana

Bayern Munich

National team stats

34

12

games

goals

The star

Alphonso Davies

21 years old, Buduburam, Ghana

Bayern Munich

National

team stats

34

games

12

goals

Les Rouges’ qualifying campaign was already impressive, and that’s before you remember they finished the job without their star player. Alphonso Davies, the 21-year-old Bayern Munich left back who became the first male Canadian to win the Champions League in 2020, missed Canada’s final four qualifying games with a case of mild myocarditis. (That didn’t stop him from celebrating when his team sealed its World Cup spot.)

The reigning Concacaf player of the year returned to the national team squad with a bang in June, scoring two goals in a Nations League game — with Canada, he’s usually deployed in more attacking positions on the wing or in the midfield — and should be near full form to create plenty more highlight-reel moments in Qatar.

Morocco

At No. 22, the Atlas Lions are the second-highest-ranked African team in the FIFA rankings, behind only AFCON winner Senegal. They exited this year’s continental tournament in the quarterfinals but still managed to qualify for their second consecutive World Cup — although the manager who helped earn that place won’t make the journey to Qatar with them.

Morocco

in the World Cup

Morocco was part of France for the first five World Cups. Qatar will be the sixth appearance since its independence.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Morocco

in the World Cup

Morocco was part of France for the first five World Cups. Qatar will be the sixth appearance since its independence.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Morocco

in the World Cup

Morocco was part of France for the first five World Cups. Qatar will be the sixth appearance since its independence.

Champion

Final

Semifinals

Quarterfinals

Round of 16

Group stage

Did not

participate

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

In the 2018 edition, the country’s first after a 20-year absence, Morocco finished last in a tough group that also featured Spain and Portugal. Three of its other four World Cup appearances also ended in the group stage.

The Moroccans qualified for the World Cup in March but fired manager Vahid Halilhodzic in August after a months-long highly publicized spat involving the country’s star, Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech. Halilhodzic helped two other countries (Ivory Coast in 2010 and Japan in 2018) qualify for those tournaments, but in both instances was also sacked before the World Cup even began. The 29-year-old Ziyech quit international soccer after he was left off this year’s AFCON squad and refused a call-up for the March qualifiers, but the coach’s exit opened the door for Ziyech’s return in September.

Coach

Walid

Regragui

Projected lineup

N. Mazraoui

S. Amallah

S. Boufal

R. Saiss

Y. Bounou

S. Amrabat

Y. En Nesyri

A. Dari

A. Ounahi

H. Ziyech

A. Hakimi

Coach

Walid Regragui

Projected lineup

N. Mazraoui

S. Amallah

S. Boufal

R. Saiss

Y. Bounou

S. Amrabat

Y. En Nesyri

A. Dari

A. Ounahi

H. Ziyech

A. Hakimi

Projected lineup

N. Mazraoui

S. Amallah

S. Boufal

R. Saiss

Y. Bounou

S. Amrabat

Y. En Nesyri

A. Dari

A. Ounahi

H. Ziyech

Coach

Walid Regragui

47 years old

A. Hakimi

Much of Morocco’s team — including most of the group that faced the United States in a loss in a June friendly — is based in Europe. On the back line, captain Romain Saiss plays for Besiktas in Turkey after spending six years with England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers. The fullback pairing of Noussair Mazraoui on the left and Achraf Hakimi on the right could be one of the tournament’s strongest. Hakimi is an established starter for Paris Saint-Germain; Mazraoui, who joined Bayern Munich this summer from Ajax, also missed out on AFCON and the final qualifiers this year because of a falling out with Halilhodzic but was called back up in September.

The star

Hakim Ziyech

29 years old, Dronten, Netherlands

Chelsea

National

team stats

42

17

games

goals

The star

Hakim Ziyech

29 years old, Dronten, Netherlands

Chelsea

National

team stats

42

17

games

goals

The star

Hakim Ziyech

29 years old, Dronten, Netherlands

Chelsea

National team stats

42

17

games

goals

Ziyech was recalled to the national team squad for its September friendlies against Chile and Paraguay, giving Morocco an attacking boost. Like Mazraoui, Zieych broke onto the European stage after winning a number of titles and individual honors at Ajax. Since moving to Chelsea in 2020, the winger has struggled to replicate that success. Should things get smoother on the club level and on the national team — former Moroccan international Walid Regragui took over in late August — Ziyech could see a return to stronger form in time for Qatar.

Croatia

The relatively surprise runner-up at the World Cup in 2018, Zlatko Dalic’s squad has seen its ups and downs in the four years since that summer in Russia. A strong record so far this year could be a promising sign for the No. 12 Croatians ahead of Qatar.

Croatia

in the World Cup

Croatia was part of Yugoslavia until 1991. It reached the final at the last World Cup, losing to France.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Croatia

in the World Cup

Croatia was part of Yugoslavia until 1991. It reached the final at the last World Cup, losing to France.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Croatia

in the World Cup

Croatia was part of Yugoslavia until 1991. It reached the final at the last World Cup, losing to France.

Champion

Final

Semifinals

Quarterfinals

Round of 16

Group stage

Did not

participate

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

For a country with a population of only 4 million that has played only 30 years as an independent nation, Croatia has always punched above its weight on soccer’s biggest stage. It finished third at its first World Cup in 1998, and 20 years later reached the tournament final against France. The Croatians lost, 4-2, in Moscow, but reaching the final marked a new historic achievement for a nation — and a squad of players — just decades removed from a destructive war.

The past two years have not been all smooth sailing. In 2020, Croatia won only two of its eight games; a year later, Dalic and several veteran players faced calls to step down after a round-of-16 exit at the European Championship. They turned it around, though, finishing the remainder of their qualifying cycle in UEFA’s Group H unbeaten and earning an impressive 1-0 win over France in a World Cup rematch in June, plus two Nations League victories over Denmark and Austria in September.

Coach

Zlatko Dalic

Projected lineup

B. Sosa

M. Kovacic

I. Perisic

J. Sutalo

M. Brozovic

A. Kramaric

D. Livakovic

M. Erlic

L. Modric

M. Pasalic

J. Juranovic

Coach

Zlatko Dalic

Projected lineup

B. Sosa

M. Kovacic

I. Perisic

J. Sutalo

M. Brozovic

A. Kramaric

D. Livakovic

M. Erlic

L. Modric

M. Pasalic

J. Juranovic

Projected lineup

B. Sosa

M. Kovacic

I. Perisic

J. Sutalo

M. Brozovic

A. Kramaric

D. Livakovic

M. Erlic

L. Modric

M. Pasalic

Coach

Zlatko Dalic

55 years old

J. Juranovic

Some thought the 2018 World Cup could be the final major tournament for Croatia’s “Golden Generation” — this is the Group of “Golden Generations,” if you haven’t noticed already — but a number of those veterans look likely to still remain as anchors for the Vatreni in Qatar. Winger Ivan Perisic moved to Tottenham Hotspur after six seasons in Italy, but was Croatia’s most productive player at Euro 2020 before the coronavirus ruled him out for the knockout rounds. Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic and Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic are still mainstays in the midfield, and on an older squad, Luka Sucic, a 20-year-old midfielder at Red Bull Salzburg, is a young name to watch off the bench.

Mario Mandzukic, the country’s second-all-time leading scorer who scored both an own goal and a regular goal in the 2018 final, will be on the sidelines as one of Dalic’s assistants in Qatar.

The star

Luka Modric

37 years old, Zadar, Croatia

Real Madrid

National

team stats

154

games

23

goals

The star

Luka Modric

37 years old, Zadar, Croatia

Real Madrid

National

team stats

154

games

23

goals

The star

Luka Modric

37 years old, Zadar, Croatia

Real Madrid

National team stats

154

23

games

goals

Now 37, Luka Modric is the most capped player in his nation’s history and has led Croatia in every major tournament it has qualified for since the 2006 World Cup. In 2018, he won the Golden Ball as the best player in Russia and the Ballon d’Or as the top male player in the world. If his play of late is any indication — he helped power Real Madrid’s comeback to win the Champions League this spring — time has yet to slow him down ahead of what is likely his final World Cup.

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