What: 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers – Group A
Who: Belgium vs Croatia
When: Tuesday 11th September, 2012, at 19:45 UK time
Where: King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels, Belgium
Steely Determination to Reach Brazil
Belgium have been touted to make a big impact for some time, with a number of talented players within their ranks. But the Red Devils have come up short, failing to reach the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008. Looking further back, the last major finals that Belgium reached was the 2002 World Cup, ten years ago now.
Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup is craved by the country and there is yet again genuine expectation that coach Marc Wilmots has the squad to do it, boasting as he does the likes of Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, Chelsea star Eden Hazard, young striker Romelu Lukaku and exciting winger Dries Mertens. The majority of Belgium’s players now turn out for top clubs, but with the expectation comes real pressure.
And Hazard in particular feels it. "I know that much is expected of me, and I also know that I can do more", said the forward.
The Red Devils grabbed a valuable 2-0 win over Wales in their first qualifier, but were helped by their opponents having a man sent off early in the first half. Belgium were glad of the points, but this is a bigger test. Croatia reached Euro 2012 and were also at Euro 2008. Igor Stimac’s men, along with Serbia, represent the most serious threat to Belgium’s World Cup dreams.
Confidence Through Strength
Croatia may be starting a new era of sorts under Stimac, who succeeded Slaven Bilic as coach after Euro 2012, but the 45-year-old can still call upon the players who served his predecessor well. Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric, along with Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic and Everton hitman Nikica Jelavic are three well capable of hurting Belgium badly.
Having missed out on the 2010 World Cup, Croatia are in many ways just as determined as their opponents to reach Brazil. But the Croats know that, playing away from home, a draw would be an acceptable result, with the aim of downing Belgium in the return in Croatia next year. Stimac’s men may also be boosted by the knowledge that they won a friendly away to Belgium as recently as 2010, the last time the two teams met.
Croatia are under no illusions about the size of the task though, despite going into the game off the back of a 1-0 win over Macedonia in their opening qualifier.
"The match against Belgium in Brussels is one of the toughest matches in qualifying", said striker Ivica Olic. "Belgium and Croatia are clear favourites to take first place in the group."
England 1-0 Belgium (02/06; Friendly)
Belgium 4-2 Holland (15/08; Friendly)
Wales 0-2 Belgium (07/09; World Cup Qualifying)
Croatia 0-1 Spain (18/06; Euro 2012)
Croatia 2-4 Switzerland (15/08; Friendly)
Croatia 1-0 Macedonia (07/09; World Cup Qualifying)
Players to watch
Belgium: – Jan Vertonghen: The Red Devils may be expected to do their fair share of attacking against Croatia at home, but their opponents are dangerous. Tottenham Hotspur man Vertonghen will need to be at his best. He may also look to repeat his powerdrive of a free-kick against Wales.
Croatia – Mario Mandzukic: While many eyes may be focused on Luka Modric, Mandzukic is lethal in the box. Now at Bayern Munich after a successful season with Wolfsburg and at Euro 2012, the 26-year-old is sure to be Croatia’s big strike threat here.
Belgium are favourites for this, but perhaps the tag should be given to neither side. While Eden Hazard and co. are capable of hurting Croatia, equally Igor Stimac can call upon Luka Modric to run the game. This could well finish as a score draw. Belgium 1-1 Croatia.
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