Croatia v Morocco
It ends how it began – Croatia facing off with Group F partners Morocco in the third/fourth place playoff as their Silver generation look to add Bronze to their long list of accolades.
Ahead of the game, Zlatko Dalic has been at pains to say that any player who needs a break will be getting one in this game and, as a result, guessing the exact make-up of a team that absolutely does want to secure third place but also will have one eye on player fitness is going to be difficult.
Added to that will be thoughts around the older players such as Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic – are they likely to bow out of World Cup football on merely cameo appearances or will they be playing full parts in Croatia’s attempt to secure a top three place? With plenty of uncertainty, looking at the players coming in who are likely to play at least some role in the game makes more sense than attempting to second guess the futures of the names everyone already knows.
Had it not been for a lack of efficiency in the final third, Morocco- could have cemented themselves into even greater footballing history by becoming the first team from Africa to make it all the way, after previously becoming the first from the continent to go beyond the quarter-finals. Walid Regragui’s men certainly gave France a scare or two in Wednesday’s semi-final, but effective and experienced Frenchman eventually ended the Atlas Lions’ dreams of a World Cup final.
Morocco’s efforts were not helped by the early withdrawals of injured defenders Noussair Mazraoui, Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd, but their squad will undoubtedly return to their homeland as national heroes whatever the outcome on Saturday 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 Theo Hernandez breached their backline in the semis, but they could still become the first nation since Spain’s legendary 2010 squad, to keep as many as five clean sheets at a single World Cup. They have already shut out Croatia previously in this tournament, opening group F with a goalless draw. The red and whites were mostly limited to shots outside the box and should once again find it hard to break down the Moroccan block. This is a chance for Morocco to enter the podium and cement themselves as the greatest African World Cup story in history. A bit more conviction in the last third is needed, but we believe that the Moroccans will have more fight in them come Saturday, to bring back the bronze medal to Rabat.
Ivan Perisic is one of those who looked to be running on fumes for much of the game against Argentina. Orsic assumed his left wing role in the second half against Argentina and had plenty of intent, getting into his favoured position cutting in from the flank and shooting on his right. Against Argentina, it wasn’t his night, but Morocco aren’t Argentina.
Orsic offers a double threat of pace and accuracy – as plenty of clubs have seen when coming up against him in European football – and with this game often the most open and unpredictable in any World Cup those traits will be to the fore.
With Marcelo Brozovic out, Lovro Majer is set to come in and will be the central attacking focal point of the midfield. While Brozovic’s passing stats were high because of his role linking defence and midfield, Majer is sure to get through plenty of work as well and, unlike other players, isn’t coming into the game on the back of starting in every game so expect him to play the full 90 (or longer).
With Majer, it means that Croatia are naturally a more attack oriented outfit as he isn’t a defensively minded player – while his shooting is often errant, his link up play is excellent and should be a big help for Croatia as they seek to secure the Bronze medal for the second time at a World Cup.
Saiss and Aguerd both likely to miss the final match should give us another start for Dari, who came in just before kick-off to replace Aguerd against France. In that match he showed why he has been among the highest foulers in the Moroccan league before leaving for Ligue 1. Lucky to escape several bookings, the Wydad centre-half made two bad fouls which went unnoticed and also made a professional foul to stop a counter-attack – all three incidents deserving of a yellow card.
Dari has long been regarded as the most talented defenders coming out of Morocco since Noureddine Naybet two decades ago. But one of his major flaws, is the lack of discipline. He is a centre-back who take major risks when heading into a challenge, often studs first and feet lifted from the grass, which naturally result in bookings every now and then. At this level, he is coming up against the best players in the world and with pressure he has yet to experience. We think chances are high of seeing a Dari yellow and if he doesn’t contain himself, he might even see a different color.
With Croatia expected to dominate possession and eager to make things right after struggling to make this tick going forward, Morocco’s left side could be targeted as a potential weak spot. Noussair Mazraoui is expected to rest and be replaced by Yahia Attiat-Allah, who has done well when he’s been called upon so far. But defensively he will be regarded as a potential liability, especially considering he has only played at full-back for a couple of years.
During his 30 minute cameo against Croatia in the opener, he made one foul and could easily have a couple more. He has an aggressive, intensive style and will take chances to win the ball, potentially making a foul in the process.
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