COPA-DO-MUNDO-QATAR-2022 Mandatory Credit: Photo by Heuler Andrey/SPP/Shutterstock (13640048p) Nico Williams of Spain, during the match between Spain and Germany, for the 2nd round of Group E of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Al Bayt Stadium this Sunday 27. 30761 (Heuler Andrey / SPP) FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Spain vs Germany, doha, qatar - 27 Nov 2022

World Cup Thursday Preview: Powerhouses look to survive and advance as Spain, Germany, Belgium, and Croatia take the pitch

Group F: Morocco (No. 22) vs. Canada (No. 41)

When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Al Thumama Stadium (Doha, Qatar)

What to expect: Morocco needs only a draw to qualify for the knockout stage against No. 41-ranked Canada in Thursday’s opening Matchday 3 contest at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar. The Moroccans currently sit tied for first place with 2018 World Cup runner-up Croatia in the Group F standings and will face a Canadian side that has already been eliminated from the Round of 16 following its Matchday 2 loss to Croatia. Morocco blanked Canada 4-0 in the nation’s first-ever meeting in 2016 during an international friendly, and it will be again a favorite to earn a win against a Canada squad that has struggled mightily in 2022. Canada has lost three of its past five international contests dating back to a 2-0 loss to Uruguay in September, while Morocco hasn’t lost a match since dropping a 3-0 decision to the USA in June. Since that loss to the Americans, however, Morocco has gone unbeaten in nine matches. That streak of unbeaten play includes a 6-0-3 mark in World Cup play, one being the Moroccans’ 2-0 upset victory over Belgium on Sunday. Thursday’s Matchday 3 contest is seemingly shaping up to be a battle between two nations headed in opposite directions. Morocco can still qualify for the knockout stage with a loss and a Belgium loss, or a loss coupled with a Belgium win and superior goal differential versus Croatia. It likely won’t need to come down to tiebreakers, though, as superior defensive play should be enough to help propel the Lions of Atlas into the Round of 16.

Chris Dell’s Prediction: Morocco 1, Canada 0

Group F: Belgium (No. 2) vs. Croatia (No. 12)

When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium (Al Rayyan, Qatar)

What to expect: The No. 2-ranked Belgians are playing like anything but the second-best team in the world right now, indeed signaling the end of Belgium’s golden generation. Belgium lost 2-0 to Morocco on Matchday 2 and now must defeat a surging Croatian squad to advance past group play and avoid a massively disappointing finish to its 2022 World Cup campaign. Belgium can technically advance to the Round of 16 with a draw here, although that draw would also need to be paired with a loss by Morocco to Canada of more than three goals. The No. 12-ranked Croatians seem to be in the Group F driver’s seat after thoroughly handling Canada 4-1 in its Matchday 2 contest, but qualifying will still not come easy for the “Fiery Boys.” Croatia will advance to the Round of 16 with a win or draw here, but a loss would need to be paired with a Morocco loss and goal differential tiebreaker in order to still qualify for the knockouts. The top two ranked teams in Group F last met just over a year ago, with Belgium taking home a 1-0 win on June 6, 2021, in an international friendly. Belgium might’ve won that last battle, but the “Red Devils” are far from their usual top form at the moment. The Belgians have lost three of their past four matches, including pre-World Cup defeats to both Egypt and the Netherlands. On the other hand, Croatia has six wins and two ties in its past eight games. Croatia might be the lower-ranked team in this Thursday’s match, but these two teams have been heading in opposite directions for quite some time now. Look for the veteran experience and recent top form of Croatia to prevail and clinch first place in Group F with a victory here.

Chris Dell’s Prediction: Croatia 2, Belgium 1

Group E: Germany (No. 11) vs. Costa Rica (No. 31)

When, where:  1 p.m. CT, Al Bayt Stadium (Al Khor, Qatar)

What to expect: Germany’s chance at World Cup qualifying redemption couldn’t come at a better time than with a Thursday matchup with No. 31-ranked Costa Rica at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar. The Germans earned a much-needed draw against Spain on Matchday 2 to avoid an early exit from knockout stage contention, and it will now need both a win and a loss by Spain or Japan to advance. Germany can also advance here with a win by more than one goal, coupled with a Spain versus Japan draw. It’s not over for the No. 11-ranked Germans just yet, and a must-win match comes against the lowest-ranked team in Group E play on Thursday. Germany last beat Costa Rica 4-2 in the teams’ only meeting in the 2006 World Cup, and despite some early struggles in Qatar, the “National Eleven” still has superior talent on both sides of the ball compared to the Costa Ricans. Costa Rica can still advance to the knockout stage with a draw and a loss by Japan to Spain, so look for “Los Ticos” to come into this match with an extremely conservative approach as long as the score remains tied. Germany’s veteran experience and overall depth should eventually wear down Costa Rica enough to right the ship, however. Despite a hectic string of upsets in Group E play, we might indeed enter the Round of 16 with the two favorites still advancing in both Spain and Germany. The Germans haven’t played inspired football through two matches thus far but could get the confidence boost it desperately needs. If Germany scores early, it could end up being a lopsided outcome.

Chris Dell’s Prediction: Germany 2, Costa Rica 0

Group E: Spain (No. 7) vs. Japan (No. 24)

When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Khalifa International Stadium (Al Rayyan, Qatar)

What to expect: Spain advances to the Round of 16 with either a win or draw versus Japan here, while the Japanese need to win to advance or a draw paired with a draw between Costa Rica and Germany. The only previous time these two nations faced each other on the pitch ended in a 1-0 Japan victory at the Men’s Olympic Tournament in 2012, but other than its 2-1 upset against Germany on Matchday 1, it’s been a disappointing past two months for the Samurai Blues. Japan suffered losses to both Canada and Tunisia in its tuneup run to the 2022 World Cup. It could’ve clinched a Round of 16 ticket on Matchday 2 with a win against Costa Rica, but a lackluster first-half effort led to Japan’s demise in that game. Spain can technically lose and still advance with a draw between Costa Rica and Germany, but don’t expect it to come down to that, as the Spanish have shown enough form to score early goals and dominate possession thus far. Six different players have scored for Spain so far during the 2022 World Cup, led by multiple scores from both 22-year-old Ferran Torres of Barcelona and 30-year-old Álvaro Morata of Atletico. The Spanish defense has also allowed just one goal during that span, giving La Furia Roja the best goal differential (+7) of all 32 nations heading into the final matches of group play in Qatar.

Chris Dell’s Prediction: Spain 3, Japan 1

Thursday’s Schedule (Dec. 1, 2022): Matchday 3 of 3

Friday’s Schedule (Dec. 2, 2022): Matchday 3 of 3

Rd of 16: Saturday, Dec. 3

Rd of 16: Sunday, Dec. 4

Rd of 16: Monday, Dec. 5

Rd of 16: Tuesday, Dec. 6

2022 World Cup groups

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