World Cup Futures Look: Group F

by Nelly's Sports

World Cup Futures Look: GROUP F

The 2022 World Cup kicks off Sunday, Nov. 20 in Qatar with 32 teams in eight groups with daily matches round-robin group play through Dec. 2. Group F starts play Wednesday, November 22 and features Belgium, Canada, Croatia, and Morocco.  

Written by Nelly’s Sportsline contributor Forrest Allen

ODDS TO QUALIFY FROM GROUP F (TOP 2 TEAMS ADVANCE) 

Belgium -450

Canada +300

Croatia -175

Morocco +200

If your politics, patriotism, or purse does not suit an underdog like Iran to advance to the knockout round, allow me to suggest a “chalkier” pick that does not carry the downside risk of tournament favorite such as Argentina or England at -1200 and -2000, respectively. Croatia, the darlings of the last World Cup who came oh so close to hoisting the trophy, are back to prove that 2018 was no fluke. After dropping their initial match to Slovenia, Croatia went undefeated in its next 9 fixtures with 7 wins on their way to winning its group filled with respectable competition to qualify for this year’s World Cup. Similarly, Croatia won its group in the UEFA Nations League highlighted by two wins over Denmark, a team ranked 10th in the world, and taking four points from France, winners of the most recent World Cup and one of the favorites to win in Qatar. The team’s only loss in the group stage was to Austria, which it later avenged with a 3-1 win. 

On offense, Croatia features a balanced attack which prevents the defense from focusing on a single player. Luka Modrić will likely be the centerpiece of Croatia’s attack. A bonified international superstar for Real Madrid, the midfielder can do it all, leading the team in goals and second on the team in assists in aforementioned international competitions. His experience and successes are similar to those often cited as the best in the world; champion multiple times over in La Liga, SuperCopa de Espana, Champions League, and UEFA Super Cup. While certainly not as decorated, but every bit as capable will be fellow midfielders Ivan Perisci of Tottenham Hotspur and Mateo Kovacic of Chelsea. Perisic has been masterful at creating opportunities for Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son as evidenced by his 7 assists in the EPL, good for 7th in the league. Named Player of the Year for a Chelsea club that finished 4th in the EPL for the 2019-20 season, Kovacic or “The Professor”, is a master technician who can advance the ball up the pitch to create chances for his teammates.

Defensively, Croatia is stout as evidenced by a +17 goal differential and 4 goals allowed in the 10 matches of World Cup Qualifying. Primary goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic’s 0.27 post shot expected goals minus goals against (PSxG-GA) puts him in the 98th percentile of goalkeepers.  For the 1 percent of readers who know what that means, hopefully you’re impressed and feel as though your money was well spent. For the 99 percent of people who have no idea what I just said, I’ll put it more plainly. This metric attempts to convey a goalkeeper’s ability to stop shots that would be expected to be goals. Positive numbers suggest an ability to do exactly that, while a negative number indicates a keeper is allowing goals others keep out of the back of the net.  If you’re still lost, Livakovic saves over 78% of the shots on target, which is better than 94% of other goalkeepers.  

In front of Livakovic, two plucky center backs have enabled, arguably, the best trio of midfielders in the world to remain on the attack. The Athletic calls Josko Gvardiol “one of the best young defenders in the world” and “admired by a number of clubs across Europe.”  Josip Suatlo is a teammate of Livakovic on Dinamo Zagreb, the winner of the Croatian HNL, Croatia’s top league.  He excels in all of the areas you would hope a defender would, tackles, interceptions, and blocks, ranking in the 84th, 94th, and 96th percentiles respectively.  

Selection: Croatia -175

Forrest Allen has a Masters of Science in Business Analytics from NYU specializing in the development of machine learning models for sports application. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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