World Cup Thoughts – Day Twelve
Groups E and F discover their fate
Ok, another highly dramatic day, another round of FIFA making it feel wrong by playing Group F before Group E. Nonetheless, we soldier on.
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Stats from FBRef unless stated otherwise.
Croatia just needed a draw to secure their place in the knockout stages, though a loss could potentially be enough. A win would probably secure first place in the group. Belgium could potentially have gone through with a draw, but realistically needed to win the game.
Morocco were guaranteed to go through with a draw. Canada had already been knocked out.
The first half of Croatia vs Belgium was a difficult watch to say the least. Croatia got awarded a penalty early on before it got ruled out for the most marginal of offsides. Had that been given, they’d have been away, but otherwise Croatia created almost nothing in that first half. Belgium launched a few fast breaks that didn’t quite come together. The intent was there, but the execution fell flat.
In all fairness, Belgium really turned it on in the second half. They created many excellent chances while giving up almost nothing. Half time substitute Romelu Lukaku took five shots worth 1.67 xG in 45 minutes, but managed to miss them all in comical fashion. Danny Page’s xG simulator estimates Lukaku scores at least one goal about 90% of the time, so that’s going to sting. I do want to give credit for just how much better Belgium were at creating chances when Lukaku was on the pitch, but it was still embarrassing for him to miss like that. I don’t see anything wrong with their performance against Croatia. But I saw a lot wrong with their first two games.
Morocco just needed a draw, though Canada presumably felt the need to play for pride. Morocco got ahead early through a stupid goalkeeping mistake, then doubled their lead through Youssef En-Nesyri within half an hour. Canada pulled one back with an unfortunate own goal, and that was the end of the excitement.
I think both sides would’ve been happy to end the match at half time. Morocco had the win they wanted, and Canada just wanted to go home. This was not a great game. Canada “won” the xG, but we’re talking a game of eleven shots between both teams here. That’s a comically low number, and a couple of big chances from Canada skew the figures in their favour. Maybe they could’ve scored one of those, but they weren’t in control from the flow of the game.
And so it was that Belgium were sent home. Roberto Martínez announced he was to leave in an era where he’s been pretty much ok. Yes, they didn’t win anything, but I don’t think they’ve played a tournament where they were the single most talented team. The “golden generation” probably peaked in talent before Martínez arrived, and he’s spent his time dealing with ageing players. Whatever opportunity was there has gone now, and I don’t think Belgium will be among the favourites for a World Cup or European Championship for quite some time.
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