Zlatko Dalic not taking ‘grand final’ World Cup third-place play-off lightly as Regragui reflects on a job well done.
Croatia vs Morocco Preview
There is undoubtedly a perception the World Cup’s third-place play-off is little more than an exhibition match – compared to the final, anyway, which sees Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe go head-to-head in Argentina vs France.
But for Croatia and Morocco, Saturday’s kick-off at the Khalifa International Stadium holds a great deal of significance regardless of what others might think.
Croatia were denied the chance to reach successive World Cup finals by Argentina, while Morocco put up an admirable world cup semi-final fight against defending champions France in their 2-0 defeat.
But the fact Croatia – who clinched bronze at the 1998 World Cup – were in the 2018 final does not diminish the achievement of potentially finishing third here for coach Zlatko Dalic.
“We are sad and disappointed, but we have to gather energy to come back and be ready for the next fight for bronze,” he said.
“The match on Saturday is a big final for us, not a small [game]. It’s a big deal if we get the bronze.
“We have to refresh the team and put healthy players in the team because a grand final is ahead of us.
“Morocco is the biggest surprise of the World Cup. They’ve got national backing, unity, and compactness. They knocked out Belgium, Spain and Portugal. They deserve all the respect.”
Make four predictions on Croatia vs Morocco to win $500
Of course, these two tussled in a rather drab goalless group-stage draw, when Croatia were restricted to just five shots, their fewest ever in a World Cup game.
That encounter was something of a foreshadowing: despite a giant killing over Brazil in the quarter-final, Croatia have not been one of the tournament’s great entertainers.
Morocco caused France plenty of problems and will fancy their chances of worrying Croatia on Saturday, particularly given Dalic’s side have faced more shots (75) than any other team at the tournament.
The Atlas Lions have certainly benefited from a degree of pragmatism as well, with one more clean sheet enough for them to become only the eighth team in tournament history to keep five in one World Cup.
Of course, Walid Regragui insisted his team want to finish third, but there’s also a degree of their job being done as the head coach acknowledged the gravity of their achievement in becoming the first African World Cup semi-finalists
“I will give opportunities to those who did not participate, and we will try to clinch the third place,” Regragui told reporters.
“We realise that we made a great achievement already. We know that from the media, social media, and on TV, we saw the pictures, and we saw that everyone was proud of us in our country.
“We’re disappointed for the Moroccan people, we wanted to keep the dream alive, but we’re pleased with what we’ve achieved.
“We felt that we could have gone even further but these small details help real champions, which we saw [against France], of course.
“My players gave everything and they’ve gone as far as they could. I really wanted to rewrite the history books, but you can’t win a World Cup with miracles, you need to do it through hard work.”
Players to Watch
Croatia: Mateo Kovacic
Dalic is expected to make a few changes: Marcelo Brozovic is an injury doubt; Luka Modric could be given a breather. All three of their regular midfield probably won’t come out of the side, meaning Kovacic is surely the likeliest to start.
The Chelsea midfielder was one of Croatia’s better players against Argentina, with his physicality and ball carrying standing out as the Valtreni tried to cope with the feisty Argentinians. He attempted six dribbles, completing four, and engaged in 15 duels, winning 10 – all of those were highs for his team.
Morocco: Azzedine Ounahi
Again, Regragui will alter his team a bit, so it is difficult to know who’s going to play. Captain Romain Saiss will be a doubt through injury. Hakimi will once again star on the right and will look to link with Ziyech. But all the neutrals will be hoping to get another glimpse of Ounahi.
An elegant central midfielder, the 22-year-old has been one of the tournament’s breakthrough stars, with his composure in possession really making him stand out. He has completed 77% of his take-on attempts in Qatar (10/13), which is the highest rate of any player to try at least 10.
Croatia vs Morocco Prediction
Morocco’s win probability of 30.9% for this game is a reasonable increase on the 24.8% the supercomputer gave them ahead of their goalless draw on matchday one.
Nevertheless, the Croatians remain the favourites, with the supercomputer putting their win likelihood at 43.1%.
The draw is rated at 26%, but it’s worth noting that none of the 19 previous third-place play-off matches at the World Cup have gone to penalties, while only one has been settled in extra time (France vs Belgium in 1986).