The third-place match at the FIFA World Cup is a relatively pointless one, but it’s also one that can be exciting because of exactly that.
Croatia and Morocco know they will have nothing to lose Saturday in Qatar, and therefore will look to play with vigor and spunk as they take the field one more time hoping to earn a just reward for a fabulous tournament by both.
Luka Modric will almost surely be playing in his final World Cup match, and fans will look for one more starring performance from the 37-year-old midfield maestro. Likewise, many of the core Croatian players like Marcelo Brozovic and Andrej Kramaric also could be in their final World Cup rodeo.
For Morocco, they have already thrown everything they have onto the field in Qatar. They’re sporting a number of injuries at key positions but will still hope they can produce one more 90-minute show for their fans who have flooded Qatar stadiums for every match in full support.
Croatia vs Morocco match facts
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• Date: Saturday, December 17
• Kickoff Time: 10:00 am ET / 3:00 pm GMT / 2:00 am AEDT (Sun, Dec. 18)
• Location: Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar
• Referee: Abdulrahman Al-Jassim, Qatar
Croatia vs Morocco team news
Croatia will likely see their aging stars given one more chance to proudly wear the checkered shirt at a World Cup. However, those with aches and pains could prioritise their club careers first, meaning Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic may not be locks to start. Midfielder Marcelo Brozovic was withdrawn in the 50th minute of the semifinal defeat to Argentina and appeared to be struggling with an injury, so the Inter man too could be left to the bench.
Mateo Kovacic, who figures to remain in the mix for Croatia moving forward at 27 years old, also has seen minutes wear him down in the past and may wish to concede time in this game before heading back to Chelsea. Look for critical locker room presence Domagoj Vida to get his first minutes of this tournament along the defensive line in what is likely his final World Cup match.
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For Morocco, there are a host of injury issues for head coach Walid Regragui to work around. Captain Romain Saiss, midfielder Nayif Aguerd, and full-back Noussair Mazraoui were all injury doubts ahead of the semifinal against France, but the boss took a risk and included all three in the starting lineup. It backfired horribly, as Aguerd was withdrawn at the last minute before kickoff, Saiss was yanked after 21 minutes, and Mazraoui came off at halftime. All three will struggle to prove fit for the third place game. Substitute striker Walid Cheddira will return from his red card suspension he served in the semifinal defeat.
Very few attackers have come face to face with the masked warrior that is Josko Gvardiol and got the better of the RB Leipzig youngster, but even one of the most in-demand defenders in Europe was no match for a 35-year-old Lionel Messi.
Prior to his downright humiliation of a man 15 years his junior, Messi crashed home the opening goal of Argentina’s semi-final with Croatia from the penalty spot before Julian Alvarez’s solo run brought La Albiceleste their second, albeit with some slices of good fortune after a couple of ricochets.
There was nothing fortunate about Argentina’s third, as Messi rolled back the years on the right-hand side before picking out Alvarez to tap home Argentina’s third and deny Croatia a second successive appearance at a World Cup final – against 2018 foes France, no less.
Dalic’s side remarkably reached the 2018 final and the semi-finals of the 2022 edition without winning a knockout game in normal time, and they are not complete novices in bronze medal matches, having beaten the Netherlands 2-1 in the 1998 third-placed playoff during their inaugural World Cup campaign.
For a side who have consistently proven their prowess in extra time periods and penalty shootouts, Croatia will not be relieved to hear that the third-placed playoff has never been decided on spot kicks, and the uninhibited Morocco fanbase will no doubt continue to bang their drums to the maximum for one last ride.
Had it not been for a lack of killer instinct in the final third, Morocco – the first-ever African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final – could have cemented themselves into even greater footballing folklore by becoming the first team from the continent to make it all the way to the final.
Walid Regragui’s side certainly gave France a scare or two in Wednesday’s semi-final, but Theo Hernandez’s acrobatic effort and Randal Kolo Muani’s tap-in 44 seconds after coming onto the pitch ended the Atlas Lions’ dreams of Qatar supremacy.
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The Africans’ efforts were not helped by the early withdrawals of injured trio Noussair Mazraoui, Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd, but Morocco’s current crop will no doubt return to their homeland as national heroes and could yet be wearing the bronze medals around their necks on the flight back.
Regragui’s side had not conceded to an opposing player in Qatar before Hernandez breached their backline with only five minutes on the clock on Wednesday, but they could still become the first nation since Spain’s triumphant team of 2010 to keep as many as five clean sheets at a single World Cup.
Croatia and Morocco are renewing hostilities just a few weeks on from their goalless draw in Group F, where the Checkered Ones were restricted to just five attempts against Regragui’s backline, and a similarly steadfast defensive showing could set the Africans on their way to a groundbreaking World Cup honour.
Croatia vs Morocco prediction
Score prediction: Croatia 2-0 Morocco
Morocco have had a great tournament, but their injuries have caught up with them, as has fatigue. They put in a great performance against France given the circumstances, but the gas tank is almost empty.
This is also a bad matchup for Morocco, as Croatia play an extremely similar style of football. The two sides both like to play defense with possession, dominating the midfield and not allowing the opposition to have many attacking moves. Both midfields have been sensational this tournament, but the Croatian trio of Modric, Brozovic, and Mateo Kovacic will take over this match.