The Qatar World Cup was tagged as the last chance for the Belgian Golden Generation to find some silverware, but they have been left to fight a teething battle for survival as they must win against Croatia to get through to the knockouts.
Belgium currently sit third in Group F, behind Croatia and Morocco, with three points. Although the equation for their qualification into the knockouts is pretty simple, they are not coming into this match with the best possible environment in the dressing room.
Following their match against Canada, where they were rattled but found a win, midfielder Kevin De Bruyne hinted that maybe the team was too old to perform.
His comments faced retaliation as veteran defender Jan Vertonghen said after their 2-0 defeat to Morocco, “We probably attacked badly because we are too old that must be it now, surely?”
But before their match against Croatia, where a win will be enough to put them through, skipper Eden Hazard said they resolved those issues among themselves.
“We had a good talk among the players. A lot has been said. We talked for an hour about good things and less good things. Now we want to win against Croatia. We now have two days to prepare. We have to be ready. Nothing happened in the dressing room. Only the coach spoke. I spoke to Kevin De Bruyne, he does believe in the group,” the forward said in a press conference.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois also said that there were no rifts amongst the team.
“I don’t think there are any problems in the squad. A lot of things have been said but we want to give everything we can on the field on Thursday,” said Courtois. “The aim of the invented stories is to create a bad atmosphere within the squad. We have to put the negativity to one side and just focus on the positive to prepare for the match.”
If Belgium fail to win the game and draw, they will have to hope that Canada, who have only scored once in the tournament, win the game by a four-goal margin or more. If they lose, they will be out.
On the other hand, Croatia are in a much-relaxed position as a draw would be enough for their survival. The only way they will go out is if they lose, and even then they will have the chance as a Morocco defeat may pave their way into the knockouts.
The runners-up from the last edition did not start the tournament with a great result as they drew against the Moroccans, but the Croats were back in rhythm against Canada as they scored four after conceding early to secure all three points.