Mandatory Credit: Photo by Noushad Thekkayil/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (13634800bn) Sofyan Amrabat (L) of Morocco in action against Luka Modric (R) of Croatia during the FIFA World Cup 2022 group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, 23 November 2022. FIFA World Cup 2022 – Group F Morocco vs Croatia, Al Khor, Qatar – 23 Nov 2022
World Cup Saturday Preview: Morocco set for rematch with Croatia in third place game
Third Place Match: Croatia (No. 12) vs. Morocco (No. 22)
When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Khalifa International Stadium (Al Rayyan, Qatar)
Match history: Croatia and Morocco last played to a 0-0 draw less than one month ago, back on Nov. 23 in Matchday 1 of group play. Morocco and Croatia ended up finishing first and second, respectively, in Group F, both making the knockout stage over the No. 2-ranked Belgians. The only other match between the two nations came in 1996, a 2-2 penalty kick shootout victory for Croatia in the Hassan II Trophy tournament hosted in Casablanca, Morocco.
Player to watch, Croatia: Luka Modrić, midfielder. This is likely the final World Cup match in Modrić’s storied career for the Croatians. Modrić, the winner of the 2018 FIFA Golden Ball award (the award given to the best player of each World Cup), still has plenty to play for despite this being a third-place match. He currently is Croatia’s all-time leader in World Cup games played (18), appearing in 2006, 2014, 2018, and 2022. While Modrić isn’t in his prime anymore, it surely doesn’t mean he’s not a vital piece to the Croatian attack. So far at the 2022 World Cup, the 37-year-old of Real Madrid is tied for third for Croatia in total shots (5), tied for second in shots on target (3), tied for fourth in chances created (4), second in expected assists (0.55), fourth in total passes (423) and tied for fourth in passing percentage (88%).
He’s also still very much the defensive stalwart he was in Croatia’s second-place World Cup finish in Russia four years ago, ranking second on the team in Qatar in tackles won (9), tied for first interceptions (8), and tied for first in receptions (45), according to Opta Analyst. Modrić still does not have an assist or goal in his six World Cup matches so far in Qatar, but if anyone can possess the savvy and confidence to penetrate this Moroccan defense, it’s certainly him. Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic recently told reporters in Qatar that he expects Modrić to continue his international career at least through the 2024 Euro Cup, so while it’s not the end of Modrić playing for the “Chequereds,” it’s likely to be his last time as a starter in the World Cup.
Player to watch, Morocco: Youssef En-Nesyri, striker. The 25-year-old of Sevilla has scored two of Morocco’s five goals through the 2022 World Cup, and the Lions of Atlas will need his offensive prowess once more on Saturday if they are going to defeat Croatia and claim a third-place finish. En-Nesyri, through six matches in Qatar, ranks third on the team in total shots (5), second in expected goals (0.84), and is tied for first for Morocco in shots on target (2).
En-Nesyri is also Morocco’s all-time World Cup leading goalscorer with three, having also scored once in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and despite his passing not being a strong suit, his role is clearly defined for a team that desperately needs offensive playmakers once they intercept the ball from their opponents and respond with swift counterattacks down the pitch.
Croatia World Cup history: Croatia is headed for their second third-place game in six World Cup appearances, a phenomenal accomplishment for a European nation that has only been a FIFA member since 1998. Croatia finished in second place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia after losing to France 4-2 in the finals, when Modrić also won FIFA’s Golden Ball award (best overall player). Croatia’s previous deep run into the tournament came in 1998, their first-ever appearance at the World Cup when they were also ousted by “Les Blues” of France.
Morocco World Cup history: The Moroccans made history last week by becoming the first-ever African nation to reach the World Cup semifinals. Their World Cup history has been brief, to say the least, with just five total appearances since becoming a FIFA member in 1958. Prior to Qatar, they’d made their first World Cup appearance in 1970, while also bowing out of the group stage three separate times and losing in the Round of 16 to West Germany in 1986. This is only the second time Morocco has qualified for a World Cup since 1998. Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech hold the record for most World Cup match appearances, while Romain Saiss, who left Wednesday’s semifinal against France with an injury in the 20th minute, is tied for second on that list. Both En-Nesry and Sofyan Amrabat are also tied for third.
What to expect: Croatia’s golden generation of back-to-back World Cup semifinal appearances is nothing to scoff at. The “Chequereds” of Croatia boasts a quartet of highly-experienced World Cup footballers in Modrić, Dejan Lovren, Ivan Perišić, and Kovačić, who have all been to at least three consecutive World Cups between 2014 and 2022 and rank as top four all-time in World Cup matches played for the national team. It’ll certainly be an accomplishment to finish second and third in consecutive World Cup campaigns as well, so don’t be surprised to see Croatia come out as the more motivated side in this matchup with the defensive-minded Moroccans. Morocco has the most clean sheets in this tournament so far (4) and are coming off a match in which they allowed an opposing player to score a goal for the first time in six matches in Qatar. The North African nation will forever call the 2022 World Cup a smashing, historic success no matter what happens in this match, so don’t be surprised to see them come out flatter than we’ve seen in this tournament so far. Look for both teams to continue their elite defensive prowess, but for Croatia’s veteran experience and golden generation swan song to pull out a win in the end.
Chris Dell’s Prediction: Croatia 1, Morocco 1 (Croatia win 4-3 on penalty kicks)
Final Round Schedule:
Saturday, Dec. 17
- What: Third-Place Match
- Who: Croatia (No. 12) vs. Morocco (No. 22)
- When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Khalifa International Stadium (Al Rayyan, Qatar)
Sunday, Dec. 18
- What: Finals Match
- Who: Argentina (No. 3) vs. France (No. 4)
- When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)