Best Bet for Belgium-Croatia
World Cup homepage | World Cup betting splits | World Cup odds
Thursday sees the final round of games in Group F, and my pick of the day is in the feature game, the battle of two European heavyweights, Croatia and Belgium.
At the last World Cup in 2018 in Russia, my 66/1 pick Croatia famously reached the final only to fall short to France. While they took the silver medal, their opponents here, Belgium, took the bronze, beating England in the third-place playoff after losing to France in the semifinal.
Croatia sits atop Group F with four points despite their stuttering start—a dull 0-0 against Morocco. They then moved up several gears by thrashing Canada 4-1. Striker Andrej Kramaric struck twice. Impressively, Croatia could have scored several more. Zlatko Dalic, the boss of the “Checkered Ones,” will know a win against Belgium will guarantee qualification, but a loss could see them heading home.
That is what makes this game such a fascinating encounter. The feeling of many experts heading into these finals was that at age 37, their talisman Luka Modric was past his best, and that may be true. But he was superb against Canada, and Croatia will be hoping his Indian Summer continues.
Croatia’s attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic came off in the first game with a calf problem but has trained and will be looking to get his place back. He may have to settle for a place on the bench, as Dalic may not want to change a winning team.
Belgium arrives here just one point behind Croatia. They collected three points with a very fortunate 1-0 win against Canada, followed by a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Morocco. They are not playing like the second-ranked FIFA team in the world, and coach Roberto Martinez appeared troubled on Sunday night as his golden generation of players looked like a shadow of their former selves. Kevin De Bruyne sparked a rift in the Belgium camp with a newspaper interview where he said he doesn’t believe his nation is good enough to win the World Cup, and the rumors are that the Man City ace and defender Jan Vertonghen had to be physically separated in the dressing room. Many of the other squad members were angered that De Bruyne told the media that they are “too old to win this World Cup.” Hardly an ideal preparation for a game they surely need to win, as a draw will only get them through if Morocco loses by three or more goals to Canada. Even in a tournament of surprises, that seems unlikely.
Belgium’s hopes are not helped by the fact Everton midfielder Onana has been suspended for receiving two yellow cards. Star striker Romelu Lukaku has played very little this season, not starting a game for his club team Inter Milan since August. He came on for the last 10 minutes against Morocco and looked unfit. Martinez will need him to play a much bigger role than that cameo. Given his lack of game time, he will still likely start with Michy Batschuayi up front,
In Belgium’s favor is their recent history against Croatia. They are on a three-game unbeaten streak against the Checkered Ones. Lukaku scored the winner in June in a friendly, the last time they squared off. Belgium does have star players capable of winning games, though they look off form, whereas Croatia looked hugely impressive in their 4-1 demolition of a Canadian team Belgium was fortunate to beat.
Zlatko Dalic will hope to exploit Belgium’s on and off-field issues and take his Croatia team through as group winners with a victory. I am going to be slightly defensive with the pick though and go with the Draw No Bet Market. It looks likely one of the World Cup medalists from last time will be heading home, and I believe it will be Belgium.
Pick: Croatia Draw No Bet at -105