One of the World Cup’s minnows has a golden opportunity to win its group – and help knock out the 2018 semi-finalists.
Plus the 2014 world champions need help after a winless campaign thus far.
Follow the World Cup including Morocco-Canada and Croatia-Belgium (2am AEDT), then Spain-Japan and Costa Rica-Germany (6am AEDT), in our live blogs below!
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Leckie LAUNCHES Roos into knockouts! | 01:30
GROUP F FINAL MATCHES
Standings heading into Friday morning
1. Croatia (4 pts, +3 GD)
2. Morocco (4 pts, +2 GD)
3. Belgium (3 pts, -1 GD)
4. Canada (0 pts, -4 GD)
CROATIA v BELGIUM [2am AEDT] – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said his team “will not be fooled” by reports of infighting in the Belgium camp ahead of the teams’ winner-takes-all World Cup clash.
The 2018 runners-up need to avoid defeat on Friday morning to be sure of qualification for the last 16, while Belgium likely need all three points.
Belgian coach Roberto Martinez hit out at “fake news” after media reports of a rift in his squad.
“We must not relax, me also. He (Martinez) is a great coach and will know how to hurt Croatia,” Dalic told a pre-match press conference.
“We will not be fooled by media stories and rumours. We are expecting the best from Belgium, a great team with excellent players.”
Striker Romelu Lukaku is expected to start for Belgium, having made his comeback from a thigh injury as a late substitute in the 2-0 loss to Morocco last week.
“He (Lukaku) is a great player who has been on the top of his game for many years in a row,” said his former Chelsea teammate Mateo Kovacic.
“It’ll be difficult, we’ve prepared, we’re expecting a very efficient Belgium. It’s going to be a difficult game. We must be focused and ready.”
Croatia brushed aside any worries they were an ageing force after a goalless draw with Morocco by coming from behind to beat Canada 4-1 in their second Group F match.
“We’ll show our true face, the face we demonstrated against Canada,” said Kovacic.
Follow Croatia v Belgium in our live blog below!
‘No celebrations’: Arnie’s blunt message | 00:24
CANADA v MOROCCO [2am AEDT] – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Morocco coach Walid Regragui wants “no regrets” after facing Canada, with his team aiming for qualification to the World Cup knockout stage for the first time since 1986.
The north African side reached the last 16 in Mexico 36 years ago for the only time in their history, and a point against already-eliminated Canada would see them repeat the feat.
They were given a 38.3% chance of advancing from the group pre-tournament and just a 14.6% chance of winning the group.
Morocco are second in Group F, level on four points with leaders Croatia, who face Belgium, on three points, while Canada are bottom with no points.
“We don’t want to have an eye on the Croatia and Belgium match to decide our own fate, we (need to) give everything we’ve got so we have no regrets at the end,” Regragui told a press conference.
“We’ll give everything we’ve got. Our players want to make history and will give 110 percent to ensure the Moroccan population is happy.”
Morocco players have been allowed to bring their families to the tournament and after the 2-0 win over Belgium, Paris Saint-Germain defender Achraf Hakimi was pictured in an emotional embrace with his mother in the stands.
“Before we got here we had a strategy meeting, to bring families with us or not,” said Regragui.
“Based on our experience in 2018, along with our technical team, we chose the option to bring the families.
“Some players have kids, some would rather have their parents with them. We did a good job in that regard. When you win, there’s no negatives, everyone is happy, but if you lose they will say — ‘Why did you bring the families?’
“We meet them after the game and then we concentrate on the next one.
“The spirit of family off the pitch, we want to bring that onto the pitch, and until now it’s functioning very well.”
African champions Senegal qualified from Group A after beating Ecuador and Morocco have a good chance to join them in the next round.
“Senegal showed us a great path, we want to go through and move forward,” said Regragui.
“Morocco is my priority, Morocco and Moroccans. (But) we hope to fly the flag of African football high.
“Often African football has been described as sub-par, not as good as elsewhere, but we’ve shown we can give anyone a run for their money.”
Opponents Canada are playing in only their second World Cup and despite two defeats and elimination with a game to spare, coach John Herdman said his team have made progress.
Follow Canada v Morocco in our live blog below!
Messi awarded dubious pen, but misses! | 00:56
GROUP E FINAL MATCHES
Standings heading into Friday morning
1. Spain (4 pts, +7 GD)
2. Japan (3 pts, 0 GD)
3. Costa Rica (3 pts, -6 GD)
4. Germany (1 pt, -1 GD)
JAPAN v SPAIN [6am AEDT] – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Luis Enrique said Spain will not count their chickens before they are hatched when they face Japan, aiming to win and qualify for the World Cup knockout phase.
La Roja are top of Group E on four points and are guaranteed to progress with a draw, but are aiming for all three points at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Some have suggested that Spain might benefit from coming second and avoiding a potential quarter-final clash with Brazil, but their coach disagreed.
“We have reflected on it, but from a professional point of view, imagine this, that we were interested in coming second,” Luis Enrique told a press conference.
“We’re in the 90th minute, stoppage time arrives, and both games are 0-0. And in the 95th minute with 15 seconds to go, Japan score and Costa Rica score.
“You’ve speculated for 95 minutes and been eliminated in the 95th. Or the reverse. Germany are winning their game 5-0 and we are at 0-0, which is good for us, and then we concede and we’re out.
“When you are convinced that your team is a very good team and that we want to play seven games, we don’t want to come second. We want to finish first.
“That means playing against whoever it is in the next round, against the second team from Group F. Perfect.
“Then in the quarter-finals against a team from Group H. (Maybe) we’ll play against Brazil, but first we have to beat Japan.
“We will not count our chickens before they are hatched.
“Top level sport is not about speculation. We have to do our homework and finish first in the group.”
Japan earned a 2-1 win over Germany in their first game, in one of the surprises of the tournament so far, but need at least a draw to advance to the round of 16.
Spain won the World Cup in 2010 and are among the fancied sides to lift the trophy after a 7-0 romp over Costa Rica in their first game and a 1-1 draw against Germany.
Follow Japan v Spain in our live blog below!
Agony! Mexico eliminated in cruel scenes | 01:15
COSTA RICA v GERMANY [6am AEDT] – Preview (via AFP) and live blog
Coach Hansi Flick laughed off suggestions he would lose his job if Germany crash out of the World Cup at the group stage for the second tournament in a row.
Germany must beat Costa Rica on Thursday and hope Spain beat Japan to be sure of reaching the last 16.
Speaking in Doha on Wednesday, Flick said he had no plans to step down but said he knew the decision would not always be his to take.
“Yes, from my side I can confirm (it won’t be my last game),” Flick said with a smile.
“You never know what’s around the corner but I am looking forward to Germany’s home European Championships (in 2024).
“I have a contract until 2024. But that’s still a long way away.”
Depending on other results, Germany may need to win by as many as eight goals to avoid a second-successive group stage exit, but Flick said thoughts of goal difference had not entered their mind despite Germany “not having everything in our own hands”.
“I think it’s a little disrespectful to say we will score eight goals against Costa Rica. We would be happy just to win the game,” he said.
Germany find themselves in this position because they suffered a shock defeat in their first match to Japan before snatching a draw with Spain.
Flick insisted he did not feel under pressure ahead of the crucial match.
“What is pressure? In this situation we are playing to go into the round of 16, it’s nice and that’s why we are here.
“I don’t feel any pressure. I didn’t feel it after Japan and I don’t feel it now.”
Flick revealed that Kai Havertz had been left out of the match against Spain as the Chelsea forward had a cold, not because of his disappointing performance in the defeat to Japan.
“Kai had a cold and that’s why he didn’t play, it wasn’t to do with his performance,” he said.
Flick said there were no fitness issues in his side and said forward Leroy Sane, whose appearance off the bench coincided with Germany’s best phase of the match against Spain, was a candidate to start.
On whether Niclas Fuellkrug, who scored Germany’s late equaliser against Spain as a substitute, would make his full international debut against Costa Rica, Flick said: “You’ll have to see tomorrow.”
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