This article is part of our Yahoo DFS Soccer series.
This Thursday's single-game Yahoo slate features a must-win matchup for Belgium and Croatia, particularly considering neither team controls its own Round of 16 destiny with a defeat. Morocco will be playing an eliminated Canada team on the other side of the morning schedule and can clinch a spot in the knockout round with a win. Turning to the books, oddsmakers see the match as almost a dead heat with Belgium ever-so-slightly favored at 35.6-percent to win. The implied goal total is just over two-and-a-half goals and these two veteran World Cup squads will hope to come out on the positive end.
For detailed stats and odds, check out the
CASH GAME STRATEGY
Kevin De Bruyne ($30) will likely be the most popular player on the board Thursday, but be warned, Belgium haven't appeared to be at their best during this year's World Cup. There have been rumors swirling about of internal disagreement amongst team members and De Bruyne has looked uncomfortable at times on the pitch. That said, I still expect tremendous creative volume from the Belgian maestro in this matchup and regular set-piece duties cement him as the premium attacker to target Thursday.
On the other side of this clash, the Ivan Perisic ($27) to Andrej Kramaric ($29) connection has been extremely effective of late and has yielded two goals and two assists in as many matches. The only thing I don't love about this Croatia arrangement is that you're required to stack two of the three most expensive players on the board and are somewhat handcuffed from spending much further down the roster. In any event, I'm a proponent that you often get what you pay for and I'd much rather have premium attackers than premium defenders for this contest.
Luka Modric is a no-brainer play at just $18, as he's still an elite talent with plenty of World Cup experience and takes most of the free kicks for Croatia. Provided he starts, he should be in all lineups and will take quite a few touches in this one. If you feel like getting a bit contrarian - see below in tournament strategy - I don't necessarily hate the idea of making Modric your Superstar (1.6x points) during a game where quality midfield play could be a difference maker.
Notably, this is a contest where expensive attackers aren't as much of a budget issue because a number of nicely-priced value defenders exist in players like Timothy Castagne ($16), Josip Juranovic ($15), Borna Sosa ($14) and Thomas Meunier ($13). Juranovic has already tallied an assist in one of his two appearances and Sosa, Castagne and Meunier are all excellent crossers on their respective flanks. Given that a scoreless draw would likely hand Morocco the group title, this game should yield goals from both squads and shutout chances sit below 25-percent on each side. If you agree with this hypothesis and feel some scoring coming on, it doesn't make much sense to pay up for defenders like Dejan Lovren ($17) or Toby Alderweireld ($19) considering you won't be expecting any clean-sheet bonuses.
With respect to tournaments, your best bet is probably fading De Bruyne at least as your Superstar and perhaps following the aforementioned Modric strategy. If you're feeling a team stack one way or another, the prices happen to fit better for Croatia and provide a bit more flexibility overall. A Croatia-heavy lineup with Modric at the top will likely be more lightly-rostered than most other strategies Thursday and while the game could follow a completely different script than expected, nobody will fault you for going against the grain a bit.
As mentioned, Belgium's looked out of sync having only scored one goal in two World Cup matches. Perhaps the return from injury of star striker Romelu Lukaku ($22) is helpful in generating more scoring volume for the Red Devils, but that's a risky bet to assume he'll fit right back in and who knows how many minutes he'll ultimately play. Accordingly, Croatia just feels like the safer play here and they've looked a more cohesive squad through two matches.