Croatia v Belgium
It’s not been plain sailing so far for Belgium who laboured to victory over Canada in their opener before Morocco saw them off in a composed 2-0 victory. There have been reports of disrepute in the Red Devils camp, though players have insisted they’re united heading into this crunch game.
Croatia opened their count with a goalless stalemate with Morocco, and a 4-1 win over Croatia puts them in a great position to qualify. Zlatko Dalic’s side will fancy their chances here too as they’ve now lost just one of their 18 matches going back to last year’s Euros, a run that includes seven wins from their last eight, which is even more impressive considering they were part of a Nations League group featuring France, Denmark and Austria.
Belgium’s Golden Generation are on the verge of failing to live up to expectation yet again, and four years on from their best ever World Cup finish of third, they’re in serious risk of an early exit here and only a win will do for Roberto Martinez’s men. They’ve lost three of their last four matches now and while they have some good match winners in their squad, they’ve looked massively below par so far in Qatar, and Croatia look a far more cohesive unit at the moment.
Belgium haven’t lost successive World Cup matches since 1994, and while that record may stay in tact here, we can’t see them winning this game and it may just be an early plane home for them.
CROATIA +0.5 HANDICAP
Canada v Morocco
Canada have nothing to play for which seems harsh given their performances. They were very unlucky not to come away with at least a point against Belgium, and they took a very early lead against Croatia to raise some eyebrows, though ultimately couldn’t cope with the Easter Europeans who recorded a comprehensive 4-1 victory in the end.
If Morocco can produce a similar result here then they will likely go through top of this group, although that’s dependent on the result between Croatia and Belgium. It would be a real shock to see them exit the competition here as they are one of just three sides yet to concede a goal at the time of writing, while they carry good form heading into this too.
What remains in Canada’s favour is only 12 of the 33 sides that have lost their opening two group games have gone on to lose their third match, going back to the 2002 World Cup, while Canada’s performances have suggested they can test Morocco here.
The African side have won six of their last nine unbeaten matches, though we think their resolve will be tested here against a youthful Canada side that will want to go out with a bang. A draw is enough for Morocco, and we’d expect them to not want this game to open up too much, and Canada on the handicap appeals.
CANADA +1 HANDICAP
Japan v Spain
It’s all to play for in this group as Japan have really caused a stir. They opened their account with a landmark win from behind against Germany, though then went down 1-0 to a Costa Rica side that had just recorded the biggest World Cup defeat since 2002. They remain a dangerous outfit that will cause any side in the World problems, though with Spain’s passing game, they may find it hard to deploy an efficient and cohesive press.
Spain have lost just one of their last 13 matches now, and have looked one of the most impressive sides so far. They looked the stronger of the two in a 1-1 draw with Germany, and will likely be disappointed with the result considering how the game played out.
La Roja have a very strong W15-D2-L0 record against AFC confederation sides going back to 1990, and we don’t expect that to weaken here. However, Japan are no slouches and they know what’s at stake, and they’ve scored in five of their last seven World Cup outings, despite facing decent sides in Colombia (twice), Senegal, Poland, Belgium and Germany in that time, so the both teams to score market also appeals here.
SPAIN TO WIN AND BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE
Costa Rica v Germany
Having been blown away by Spain, Costa Rica didn’t let their heads drop and bounced back with a crucial 1-0 win over Japan to put them right back in contention to qualify. That’s easier said than done though against a tough Germany side who are looking to avoid unprecedented back-to-back Group Stage exits.
Germany suffered a shock defeat to Japan, and if it weren’t for a rocket of a strike from Niclas Fullkrug late on against Spain, Die Mannschaft could have been heading for the airport. As it happens though, they still need a victory and hope that Spain take the spoils against Japan.
This is a repeat of the 2006 opening round match in which Germany won 4-2, and the European side have won five of their six World Cup matches against CONCACAF nations, although the most recent such game was their 1-0 defeat to Mexico in 2018.
If Spain and Japan were to draw, a two-goal victory for Germany would be enough to see them through, and we’d expect to see them go gung-ho from the off. The return of Leroy Sane is certainly a welcome one, especially with Francisco Calvo suspended at the back for the American side.
Hansi Flick’s men have only won two of their last10 matches, though form somewhat goes out the window in crunch matches like this, and the majority of those outings came against top nations like England, Spain, Italy and Netherlands. We’ve seen Costa Rica get carved open already, and we’ll back Germany to do all they can.
GERMANY –1 HANDICAP
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