Morocco v Croatia
Croatia’s redemption story starts here as the 2018 finalists look to go one step further this time out. They’ll be hard pressed in doing so with only five players remaining in this squad from the team that started that final, though they seem to be hitting some form at the right time and certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly.
They’ve lost just one of their last 18 matches now over 90 minutes, a run which includes wins over Denmark (twice) and France, and they’ll be confident of getting their campaign off to a good start.
Morocco are on a similarly strong run having lost just one of their last 40 outings over 90 minutes. That defeat came in convincing fashion against USA, while a large portion of those games came against African and Arab sides, with the only matches against sides currently ranked higher than them in the World being that recent US defeat and a win over Senegal over two years ago.
The African side have played in three World Cups since 1986, going out in the groups in all three with a W1-D2-L6 record across those three tournaments, and their only victory in that time came against a poor Scotland side in 1998.
The European side is certainly stronger, and they look good value to come away with maximum points from their opener as they did back in 2018.
CROATIA TO WIN
Germany v Japan
Germany have been dealt a tough hand with Spain the favourites to go through, while Japan aren’t exactly a pushover either. They’ve won seven of their last eight opening matches at a World Cup, though the most recent was a 1-0 defeat to Mexico and they don’t seem to carry that same edge than they have in the past.
They were exceptional in qualification, winning nine of their 10 outings, though the level of opposition was poor, and a defeat to North Macedonia was a real low point of that campaign. They didn’t set pulses racing in the Nations League either, going W1-D4-L1 in a group of England, Italy and Hungary.
Japan have been inconsistent to say the least lately, going W5-D3-L3 from their last 11 outings, with impressive victories over the likes of USA, Ghana and Korea being nullified by tame draws with China and Vietnam as well as defeats to Tunisia and Canada.
The Asian side have kept six clean sheets in seven now, though the level of opposition aren’t that of Germany. They’re only truly elite opposition they’ve faced recently was Brazil, a game they narrowly lost 1-0, while they beat Uruguay 4-3 after the last World Cup, a tournament in which they ran Belgium close in a 3-2 loss having taken a two-goal lead, and the handicap appeals. Germany lack a prolific talisman, and that will play against them here in what could be a low scoring, tense fixture.
JAPAN +1 HANDICAP
Spain v Costa Rica
There’s no prizes for guessing the favourites for this clash, though Argentina went off at a shorter price yesterday against Saudi Arabia, and we all know how that turned out. The Spanish have lost just one of their last 11 matches after an impressive Nations League campaign which saw them go W3-D2-L1, against Portugal, Switzerland and Czech Republic.
Costa Rica are on a similarly good run of form though, losing just one of their last 13, albeit against weaker nations than the Spanish faced. With that said, they still managed wins over World Cup side USA and Canada in that run, as well as a draw with Mexico and one with Korea in a match they likely would have won if not for a late red card which allowed Son Heung-Min to equalise.
Many matches this year have gone down to the wire already, with England’s thumping of Iran and Ecuador’s composed performance against a poor Qatar side the exceptions. Costa Rica will be inspired by what they saw from Saudi Arabia yesterday and they certainly have the quality to cause this Spain side some issues with the likes of experienced heads Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell, while Jewison Bennette is certainly one to watch. They’ll be looking to roll back the years and repeat their 2014 heroics and we’ll back them to have a good go of it.
COSTA RICA +2 HANDICAP
Belgium v Canada
Belgium will be without talisman Romelu Lukaku for their opening couple of games, and it’s unclear if he’ll even be able to make a return for the Croatia game. That leaves a massive hole up top and while the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne have the talent in the final third, they’ll be lacking a talisman to stick chances away. Dries Mertens looks the likely man to lead the line, though he is past his best and has managed just two goals in 12 for Galatasaray this year.
Canada have one obvious threat in Alphonso Davies, who will likely be deployed further up field than he is for Bayern, while Jonathan David is more than capable of providing a finishing touch when required. With that said, Canada haven’t won any of their last 12 match against European opponents (D5-L7) despite the best of those sides being Denmark, who beat them 4-0, so it doesn’t bode well here.
Belgium will have plenty of the ball, though have lost their two matches leading into the World Cup despite having more of the ball as they struggled to create against Egypt last week (L 2-1). They’ve gone W5-D3-L5 from their last 13 matches and while we wouldn’t expect a defeat here, a stalemate looks good value.
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