Group F at the 2022 World Cup is not short on compelling storylines, from the top to the bottom.
In Belgium, it has a recent world No. 1 yet to win a major tournament, about to enter what is surely the country's golden generation's last dance together after an all-time-best third-place finish in Russia four years ago.
In Croatia, it has a finalist from four years ago that is similarly trending toward the end of a cycle, like the group's favorite (at least as far as World Cup odds are concerned) Belgium.
In Morocco, it has a perennial underperformer freed from the constraints of previous management, with high-flying attacking talent ready to right the wrongs from '18 and last year's AFCON.
And, in Canada, it has an awe-inspiring collection of attacking talent looking to continue a meteoric rise that started with a 120th-placed ranking five years ago and concluded with a 36-year World Cup drought ended in emphatic, region-dominating fashion.
Four talented teams, all marked with genuine world-class talent, collide. Get set for Group F play with our team breakdowns and best bet below, and check out our World Cup picks page for more.
World Cup Group F odds to advance
World Cup Group F team breakdowns
Belgium (Odds to win group: -150)
Here we are: The Last Dance. After achieving No. 1 in the world status for the first time in their history in November 2015, and holding it on and off until March of this year, Belgium's golden generation enter what is likely their last tournament together as the team's core — with a third-place finish in Russia four years ago their crowning achievement.
Though Belgium have already begun to bleed in the next era, the team they're set to rely on in Qatar is an awful lot like the one of four years ago — both in formation and personnel. Manager Roberto Martinez remains committed to a three-man backline, with wing-backs Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier flanking a double-pivot in the midfield, two attacking midfielders (including Kevin De Bruyne) ahead of them, and a central striker — Romelu Lukaku.
Since Martinez took over, Belgium have consistently been one of the world's most dangerous attacking teams — evidenced by their 2018 semifinal loss to France, nearly two years to the day of Martinez's appointment, being their first goalless competitive game under the manager. Being able to count on Eden Hazard, De Bruyne, and Lukaku, among others, all at various peaks, will do that.
It's in defense, however, where Belgium concern compared to other members of the world's elite. While some other elite sides rely on stability, like England or France, and others truly world-class talent, Belgium aren't exactly doing either. Their three centerbacks are going to be tested in a variety of ways, frequently, in Qatar.
Player to watch: Thibaut Courtois. The Real Madrid goalkeeper is at the absolute height of his powers at the moment and was just awarded the Yashin Trophy as the best keeper in Europe last season, fresh off another Champions League triumph for Madrid. Courtois' shot-stopping will need to be at the highest level playing behind a three-man backline that sets up high up the pitch but lacks athleticism.
The runners-up from Russia are back after a disappointing Euros last summer, in which they escaped their group but fell at the first time of asking, to Spain.
Though long-time Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic is gone, the strength of Croatia is still in their midfield three. Luka Modric, who won the Golden Ball in Russia, remains effortlessly smooth in every facet of his game and is surrounded by physicality that enables him to be the magician he is capable of being.
Alongside Modric is Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic, who can drive the ball through midfield and pick a pass in his own right, and Inter's Marcelo Brozovic, who shields Croatia's backline and enables Modric and Kovacic to be the team's engines.
While Modric and Kovacic will be the heart of every attacking move Croatia make, it'll be at the feet of Ivan Perisic. The wing-back will operate in a front three in Qatar and serve as their creative outlet out wide — where every attacking move runs through for Croatia — just as he did in Russia, when he totaled three goals and an assist for the semifinalists.
Though Perisic can still hit a ball awfully sweet, the lack of options up top could render his service unmet. There hasn't been a spiritual successor to the retired Mario Mandzukic, with Croatia's other options terribly one-dimensional — most notably Andrej Kramaric, who offers a dominant aerial presence but little else.
Player to watch: Ivan Perisic. It's a pretty good representation of this squad that it is, still, Perisic as the "player to watch" but he is here with good reason. Croatia remain oh so reliant on the wide areas, and subsequent crosses, to create attacks that Perisic simply must be at his best in Qatar for Croatia to create anything going forward, such is their dearth of central attackers.
The World Cup arrives with some good news and some bad news for Morocco.
The good news? New manager Walid Regragui is well on his way to making Morocco into the exciting, expansive, attacking side they have shaped up as since before the last World Cup.
The bad news? Qatar has arrived too early for that reality to settle in, with Regragui having taken charge of just two games thus far.
In the years leading up to this tournament, Morocco — and this era of exciting attacking talent — have disappointed in multiple major competitions. In Russia 2018, they entered as a dark horse many expected to compete in a difficult group — that idea died in an opening-game loss to Iran.
The following summer, Morocco's AFCON came to an end at the hands of Benin in the Round of 16. And last summer, in the most recent AFCON, they snuck by Malawi before being dispatched by Egypt.
Now, Regragui has brought his attacking principles to the national team and, crucially, brought back two of the program's three best players. Both right-back Noussair Mazraoui and attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech rejected call-ups under the previous manager but are back in the fold and vitally so.
Along with Achraf Hakimi, Mazraoui will be the attacking outlet for a Morocco side that pushes their fullbacks high up the pitch and attacks through them.
Player to watch: Hakim Ziyech. Back in the Moroccan squad after being frozen out by the previous manager, Ziyech gives Morocco a creative, attacking outlet that can operate centrally as well as out wide, with the majority of their creative spark otherwise coming from fullbacks. Minutes have been hard to come by at Chelsea this year for Ziyech but Morocco will need him pulling the strings if they have any hope of progression.
Not only did Canada end their 36-year World Cup qualification drought but they did it emphatically, finishing first in CONCACAF qualifying and going 13 games unbeaten before losing their final, meaningless qualifier.
The experience Canada gained in qualifying will be vital to their chances in Qatar. Brilliant head coach John Herdman was able to develop the team into one that is capable of playing deep and absorbing pressure against top sides while also being able to break down more passive opponents. With so much speed and game-breaking ability, however, verticality will be a staple of any team Herdman sends out.
They will feel comfortable lining up with five or four at the back, depending on the opponent, but a few pillars of their team will remain no matter what. Steven Vitoria and Kamal Miller will be relied upon at a talent-poor centerback spot. Stephen Eustaquio will man the midfield and could be joined by the ageless Atiba Hutchinson, after an injury scare.
Then there's the attack — where there are the most well-known names and ultimately, the biggest reason to believe in progression. Alphonso Davies is world-class and already the best men's player Canada's produced, while Jonathan David chases just Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in France's goalscoring charts.
Beyond that incredible pair, there's record-goalscorer Cyle Larin as well as Tajon Buchanan, who will be next to land a big-money move in Europe. With so much attacking talent, you can see why defensive structure and stability are of the utmost importance to a blossoming team.
Player to watch: Stephen Eustaquio. Though Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies will be the familiar names in Qatar, Porto midfielder Stephen Eustaquio will be the most important player for Canada. Eustaquio was Canada's best player throughout World Cup qualifying and no other midfielder in the program has the passing range Eustaquio boasts, while his defensive prowess shined repeatedly in a double-pivot with Atiba Hutchinson.
Group winner odds courtesy of PointsBet, as of November 15, 2022.
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World Cup Group F best bet
Morocco to finish last (+120 at bet365)
Morocco are a talented side that should be expected to continue to progress as a program and compete at the next African Cup of Nations but Group F is a tall task for the Atlas Lions.
Despite this being the second straight World Cup for many players in the squad, in many respects, this is a team in its infancy — especially compared to their Group F opponents — with the group stage to be games No. 3, 4, and 5 under Regragui.
The spine of Belgium's team has played together for years and has navigated several major tournaments already. The same could be said for Croatia just four years after an unlikely run to the final in Russia.
Canada, meanwhile, may be entering their first World Cup in a generation but the core of their team — head coach John Herdman included — have been together for nearly four years and went through several grueling rounds of CONCACAF qualifying together.
In a tactical sense, Morocco are in tough in all three games, too. All three opponents have some tremendous attacking talent and the lack of a high-level defensive midfielder at the base of their midfield three will be a massive disadvantage.
Reprieve from being pinned back will be hard to come by, with fullbacks Hakimi and Mazraoui their release valves. Belgium's wingbacks will ensure Morocco's flanks are pinned in their own half as the Belgians dominate possession. Croatia's ability to get the ball to wide areas and create chances from there will be a similar defensive challenge.
Then there's Canada who, on paper, stack up most closely as Morroco's equal. The battle on the wing between Hakimi and Alphonso Davies, and Mazraoui and Tajon Buchanan, will be incredible but Herdman has earned the trust to win the tactical battle after years in charge of the program.
The Canadians can beat Morocco — and could need a result to keep their hopes of progression alive, with that game the last in the group stage — which would seal the Atlas Lions' fate as Group F bottomfeeders.