Both sides enjoyed a winning start to the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, but opening victories won’t mean much in case of a defeat in this match. Neither team were impressive on Friday, but this is a perfect opportunity to show some improvement and gain an early advantage over the rivals for the first place in the group.
Easy win in Wales
Had Belgium been placed in a similar group just few years back, they would have been destined for failure, but the mere fact many now consider Marc Wilmots’ side as group favourites shows how much the team have progressed over the last few years. With the likes of Hazard, Fellaini, Kompany, Vermaelen and Vertonghen in the side, the Red Devils were always going to come good, but nobody was sure the team can finally secure their place at a major tournament. The 4-2 victory over arch rivals Netherlands gave the team a much needed confidence boost before the start of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, so nobody was really surprised to seem them record an easy victory over Wales. James Collins’ sending off midway through the first half certainly helped Belgium a great deal, but I’m pretty sure they would have won the game anyway. The Red Devils now need to beat Croatia as well in order to stake their claim for the first place in the group, and while their attackers should have no problems continuing the good run against what is a very shaky back line, their own defenders are likely to have their work cut out for them against the likes of Mandzukic, Jelavic and Eduardo.
Steven Defour and Romelu Lukaku could start against Croatia, with Kevin Mirallas and Moussa Dembele likely to be dropped.
Under-par showing against FYR Macedonia
Croatia have become a real force to be reckoned with in European football over the last decade, and the Blazers usually have no problems reaching the major tournament finals. The Croats largely impressed at the Euro 2012, even if they failed to qualify for the quarter-finals, with their amazing showing against Spain proving they can still mix it with the best in Europe. Long-serving coach Slaven Bilic has since decided to step down from the post and many believe that Igor Stimac is not the best replacement. The 4-2 friendly defeat to Switzerland proved that may be the case, whereas the poor showing in the 1-0 win over FYR Macedonia, when their opponents were the better team and had a penalty appeal wrongfully turned down, only made matters worse. However, even if the back line looks extremely weak now that Vedran Corluka is also sidelined, there should be no major problems up front with the likes of Modric, Mandzukic, Jelavic and Perisic in the squad.
Domagoj Vida is likely to replace Vedran Corluka in the heart of defence, with the team that ended the game against FYR Macedonia likely to start in Belgium.
Some of world’s top attacking players will be on display at Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels, which should guarantee us exciting football and plenty of chances at both ends. With two attack-minded sides set to face each other in a crucial qualifying encounter, over 2.5 goals should be a safe choice.
Our prediction: Over 2.5 goals
Odds: 2.20 (6/5)