Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash
Belgium's Eden Hazard looks on during the World Cup group F football match between Belgium and Morocco, at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, November 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

DOHA, Qatar, (AFP) — Belgium coach Roberto Martinez dropped captain Eden Hazard to the bench for his side's crucial World Cup game against Croatia on Thursday.

The Real Madrid forward was left out of the XI as one of four changes from the team which started the surprise 2-0 defeat by Morocco last weekend.

The Belgians played down media reports of an altercation between senior players, including Hazard, earlier this week, with Martinez calling the rumours "fake news".

Belgium have to beat 2018 runners-up Croatia in their final Group F match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium to be sure of qualification to the last 16.

Martinez also gave in-form Brighton attacker Leandro Trossard and veteran winger Dries Mertens their first starts of the tournament.

Leander Dendoncker replaced the suspended Amadou Onana in midfield.

Striker Romelu Lukaku was again only fit enough for a place on the bench after making a brief substitute appearance against Morocco.

Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic named an unchanged starting line-up after the impressive 4-1 victory over Canada left them only needing to avoid defeat against Belgium to go through.

Morocco take on already-eliminated Canada simultaneously in the other last Group F game, knowing a point would secure a place in the knockout phase for the first time since 1986.

Starting line-ups:

Croatia (4-3-3)

Dominik Livakovic; Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa; Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic; Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric, Marko Livaja

Coach: Zlatko Dalic (CRO)

Belgium (4-3-3)

Thibaut Courtois; Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Timothy Castagne; Axel Witsel, Leander Dendoncker, Kevin De Bruyne (capt); Yannick Carrasco, Leandro Trossard, Dries Mertens

Coach: Roberto Martinez (ESP)

Referee: Anthony Taylor (ENG)

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