Belgium vs Morocco - World Cup: Team news, lineups & prediction
With a match against Group F rivals Morocco on Sunday at Al Thumama Stadium, Belgium will continue its quest for a first World Cup with the goal of getting at least one foot into the knockout rounds.
The Red Devils will try to subdue the Atlas Lions after they held Croatia to a scoreless draw in their previous match, which they edged out against Canada.
Belgium began their latest quest for an elusive big title on Wednesday evening as they faced a country that had been absent from the World Cup finals for over four decades. Belgium qualified quite easily, averaging over three goals per game in the process.
During the first half of their matchup in Al Rayyan, Group F outsiders Canada flourished on their return to the international stage and had a penalty saved by Thibaut Courtois early on. However, Michy Batshuayi's strike in the 44th minute ultimately determined the outcome of the three points.
Romelu Lukaku was out with an injury, so Kevin De Bruyne took his place and helped Fenerbahce to a crucial victory on the first day of the season. Other stars also struggled, including playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who strangely won the match's man of the match award.
Belgium leads their group going into Sunday's second match after Croatia and Morocco played to a scoreless draw earlier in the day. However, they will undoubtedly need to up their game when playing more difficult competition.
It is likely that Batshuayi will continue to play up front for an ageing "Golden Generation," and his ability to fill in for the Red Devils' all-time leading scorer, Romelu Lukaku, who has 68 goals from 102 appearances for his country and five in ten World Cup games, could be crucial to their chances in Qatar.
The Belgians still hope to improve on their third-place finish in 2018, but first they must take care of business against a nation they defeated 1-0 in their only previous World Cup encounter, at USA '94. This could be coach Roberto Martinez's final game.
Morocco has found the going much tougher over the years, so their opening-day draw with 2018 runners-up Croatia was celebrated as something of a victory. Morocco has now lost each of their last eight group stage games at the finals while Belgium has found the going much easier over the years.
The Atlas Lions were praised for a strong defensive performance following the teams' match in Al Khor. This represents a positive development as they have failed to even qualify for the World Cup in four of their last five attempts and managed just one point from a difficult group four years ago.
Given the calibre of their European counterparts in Group F, current coach Walid Regragui has previously acknowledged that his team is not expected to advance past the group stage, but on Wednesday at Al Fayt Stadium, they more than held their own. Holding Croatia scoreless is a fine day's effort, even though Morocco has now failed to score in nine out of 17 World Cup games—more than half of their games overall.
After losing to Egypt in the Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinals the previous year, former manager Vahid Halilhodzic, who had parted ways with Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui over differences in philosophy, left the position. His successor Regragui took over and reintegrated both players into the team.
Following a successful start in Qatar, the former coach of Qatari club Al-Duhail will now guide his country into a match in which they will undoubtedly accept a single point before facing a potentially pivotal match against Canada four days later.
They should at least play Belgium in a partisan atmosphere in Doha while enjoying the loud support of Moroccan fans who have travelled directly from North Africa and a sizable expat community based in the Middle East.
Belgium team news
Romelu Lukaku, the top scorer for Belgium, is in a race against time to be included, despite Roberto Martinez's previous declaration that he hopes the star striker will be available this weekend. The 29-year-old has been dealing with a hamstring ailment since the end of August, and it's possible that he won't be fully healthy until the last group match against Croatia.
Michy Batshuayi is expected to start up front again in Lukaku's absence because he scored the game-winning goal the last time they played and has an impressive international record thus far.
Leandro Trossard, who made a cameo against Canada and has been in superb form for Brighton & Hove Albion, provides another option in the second half, while Lois Openda of Ligue 1 club Lens provides another option. However, it will be difficult for the latter to replace captain Eden Hazard.
However, Thomas Meunier and Amadou Onana are vying for promotions to the starting lineup at wing-back and central midfield, respectively. Martinez is expected to stick with the formation he used on Wednesday.
Morocco team news
Walid Regragui selects a similar starting XI to the one that won the tournament's opening match, but Morocco's pivotal midfielder Sofyan Amrabat will play again despite carrying a caution from the Croatia game.
Yassine Bounou, the goalkeeper for Sevilla, should line up behind Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, and Nayef Aguerd at the back, and Noussair Mazraoui, the full-back for Bayern Munich, is probably going to join them as well, despite being carried off on a stretcher in midweek.
Although the former Ajax player landed heavily on his side, it is thought that he only suffered a minor muscular injury; Yahia Attiyat-Allah is prepared in case further assistance is needed.
Belgium possible starting lineup
Courtois; Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Dendoncker; Meunier, Onana, Witsel, Carrasco; De Bruyne, E. Hazard; Batshuayi
Morocco possible starting lineup
Bounou; Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, Mazraoui; Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah; Ziyech, En-Nesyri, Boufal
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