FLOW Qatar Spotlight | Croatia-Morocco, the calm before the storm or the fireworks of the last showdown?
Don’t expect a drab third-place playoff
After what has been a truly remarkable tournament, the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup is down to two games, the third-place playoff and Sunday’s grand finale between defending champions France and Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
The third-place playoff is often expected to be a lacklustre affair but I strongly doubt that will be the case this time around.
For Croatia’s ‘Golden Generation’, this will be the time to sign off with two FIFA medals, a silver from 2018 and a bronze from 2022, which in and of itself will be a great achievement for a country who made their debut at the games in 1998. Many thought that Russia 2018 was an anomaly, a year in which Luka Modrić outdid himself, allowing Croatia to over-achieve, but the little maestro, despite being on the wrong side of his 30s showed class and experience to lead his team all the way to the semi-finals in 2022.
For the Atlas Lions of Morocco, history has already been made. But they could yet write another line if they can pull themselves together for one last push.
What will this mean for the up-and-coming footballers in the country and their fellow countrymen? Either way this goes, the third-place playoff will be a great way to sign off 2022 for both Croatia and Morocco.
Playoff about the next generation of stars
The journey to this point has been interesting for both Croatia and Morocco. Croatia have, for all intents, cemented a place in history for this generation of players, a generation that includes perhaps, their greatest player of all time in Luka Modrić.
When the little maestro walked off the field toward the end of his semi-final game against Argentina, there was a sense of resignation around a job well done. And while it has been a job well done, Croatia are a proud nation and it would not surprise me if Modrić musters all the energy in his 37-year-old legs in a bid to, at the very least, match the feat of the country’s debut at the World Cup in 1998 when Davor Šuker, along with some supremely talented players, led them to third place.
Even if Modrić doesn’t have the inspiration for this final 90 minutes, it is also a good opportunity to see what the next generation of Croatian talent has to offer.
Names like 24-year-old Lovro Majer, Luka Sučić, and Nikola Vlašić could be those that stand at the heart of a 2026 Croatian drive.
Morocco have a young and talented midfield that has been shoved under the carpet because of their heroic defensive exploits. Against a Croatian team that likes to keep the ball moving, that midfield will be tested. But they will, give their all in this test if, for no other reason, Morocco want to be the first Arab or African nation to place at a World Cup.
Names like Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech are already known, but Azzedine Ounahi has been one of the finds of the World Cup, displaying a silky smoothness and a calmness in midfield that belies his 22 years. The engine in that midfield, Sofiyan Amrabat, is just 26 years old, and it will be interesting to see how they match up against the more experienced Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović.
The game also pits two of the better coaches in this tournament, Croatia’s Zlatko Dalić, and Morocco’s Walid Regragui, against each other for a second time.
A playoff with everything to play for
Normally third-place games aren’t much of an attraction, but it could be different this year with two teams with motivations to end their World Cup campaigns on a high.
Croatia and Morocco have had different journeys to get to the final four but both, in their own way, have surpassed their own expectations in this tournament.
Four years after making it to the final, Croatia returned to the semi-finals despite only scoring two goals in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, dispatching Japan and favourites Brazil along the way. That is no small feat. They have done it with Luka Modrić at age 37 still having key moments in midfield combined with an infusion of youth which will be critical to their future. Josko Gvardiol is among the best defenders in the tournament with his stock only rising from here on out. Sending off Modrić's World Cup career with a third-place win would be fitting.
Morocco, despite falling short in the semi finals, will be no less motivated to complete their historic run by finishing in third place. Regardless of result it will be the highest placing any African team has had in the tournament.
Morocco have been walking wounded with key players injured and will need the bench to step up more than ever. It could also allow them to play more freely which opens the possibilty of a back and forth slugfest. The last time they met was in the group stage were it ended 0-0. This time, there won’t be any caginess and I dont think it will end scoreless.
Morocco should be more up for it than Croatia
The least watched game in any World Cup is the third place playoff.
That may not hold true when Croatia and Morocco face off tomorrow.
While Croatia might find it difficult to motivate themselves for this academic game, Morocco will be inspired to secure a historic third-place finish.