The exceptions are 20-year-old Joshko Guardiol from Croatia and 25-year-old Nikola Vlašić, as well as 21-year-old Charles de Ketelair from Belgium. 21-year-old Belgian midfielder Amadou Onana has been suspended for the game after picking up to two yellow cards.
Nicknamed “Little Pep” due to the similarity between his last name and that of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, the physical Guardiol has already become an integral part of the centre-back for Croatia and Leipzig, who recently extended his contract until 2027.
Despite a contract extension, Guardiol has been linked with a possible move to Chelsea, where he could join fellow Croatian international Mateo Kovacic.
“At the age of 20, he showed that he can play at a great level,” said Kovacic. “He just needs to keep doing it.”
Nikola Vlašić, younger brother of former high jump world champion Blanca Vlašić, usually plays as an attacking midfielder. But in the Croatian national team, where the likes of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Kovacic play in midfield, Vlašić is used as a winger.
Statistically one of the best midfielders in Serie A this season with Torino, where he is on loan from West Ham, Vlašić is often involved in the build-up and also has a lot of shots on goal.
Vlašić was out of Croatia’s first 0–0 draw with Morocco at half-time after being knocked out, but returned as a substitute in a 4–1 win over Canada.
“Everyone thinks of three midfielders, and rightly so, but now this team is an even bigger threat,” Belgian coach Roberto Martinez said of Croatia.
“(Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic) highlights new players who come in to replace these three players.”
Belgium also rely on a veteran offensive core in Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, who was not 100% physically on the attack, meaning baby-faced De Keteler, or “CDK” as he is known. , in this tournament so far he has only played from the bench.
But De Ketelare impressed by joining Italian champions Milan in August, and has been compared to former Rossoneri standout Kaka for his dribbling and accurate passing as a playmaker.
“Some of the young players who haven’t been in the game are growing up behind the scenes. I feel like they can be called when needed,” Martinez said. “I thought the players who came out against Morocco did their job, they did well.”
Croatia can secure their place in the round of 16 with either a win or a draw, while Belgium needs a win to be sure of moving forward.
Croatia and Morocco lead Group F with four points each, Belgium have three points and Canada have zero and have already been eliminated.
If Canada beats Morocco, it is quite possible that both Croatia and Belgium will come out ahead.
“It’s very difficult to go into a game just for the points – that’s not our mentality,” Vlašić said. “We need to aim for a win because if you’re just looking for a point, you concede a goal and you suddenly find yourself in a state of panic. So let’s go for the win.”
Andrew Dampf in https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf