Croatia were beaten 3-0 by Argentina in the first World Cup 2022 semi-final
Morocco’s incredible journey came to an end with a 2-0 defeat by France
Croatia and Morocco will now be striving to finish third in the tournament in Qatar
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World Cup 2022 is almost over. After four weeks and 62 games of soccer between 32 nations from across the globe, there are only two things left to be decided. The first, of course, is whether Argentina or France will be crowned world champions on Sunday. The second is if it will be Croatia or Morocco that takes the bronze medal 24 hours earlier.
Not everyone is a fan of the third-place play-off. It has been criticized in the past as a waste of time, particularly when it was contested by two teams that had designs on reaching the final. On this occasion, though, things are slightly different.
Neither Croatia nor Morocco was expected to reach the last four, so they will be less gutted than, say, Argentina or France, to be competing in the penultimate match of the tournament rather than the very last one.
Morocco have made history this winter, becoming the first national team from Africa to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. They did so in brilliant fashion, finishing top of a tricky group ahead of Croatia, Belgium, and Canada, before upsetting Spain and Portugal in the knockout phase.
Their adventure finally came to an end on Wednesday, as the defending champions France ran out 2-0 winners against Walid Regragui’s side. Morocco did not disgrace themselves, though: it was a pretty close game and les Bleus were not home and hosed until they added a second goal in the 79th minute.
Morocco will now be desperate to end their campaign on a high by winning the third-place play-off. Injuries have begun to take their toll on this squad, but the Atlas Lions will rise for one last push at the Khalifa International Stadium.
In the end, Croatia fell short in their bid to reach a second World Cup final on the bounce. Despite making a decent start against Argentina in their semi-final clash, Croatia fell behind to a Lionel Messi penalty and conceded a second goal soon after. From there, it was always going to be a long way back.
Zlatko Dalic can still take plenty of positives from Croatia’s campaign, as a nation of fewer than four million people once again punched above its weight. The manager’s long-term future is not clear as things stand but for now, he will be focused on trying to end the competition on a positive note.
Croatia played some lovely football in Qatar. Their midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic was arguably the best at the tournament, while Josko Gvardiol and Dominik Livakovic excelled at center-back and between the sticks respectively.
Yet the Vatreni only won one match inside 90 minutes - a 4-1 thrashing of Canada in which they ruthlessly exploited their opponents’ tactical naivety. Croatia showed great resilience and grit to get past Japan and Brazil on penalties, but both matches finished as ties at the end of regulation time.
That is not to diminish Croatia’s achievement - after all, they have only lost one game up to now - but to show how close all of their matches have been, with the exception of that demolition of the Canadians.
Croatia are the favorites with the best online sportsbooks, but that was also the case when these two teams met on matchday one of the group stage. That game on November 23 finished goalless, but Morocco were the better team. They defended stoutly and played with aggression and intensity in and out of possession. In hindsight, it was a sign of things to come.
Croatia struggled to break Morocco down on that occasion and we could be in for a repeat this weekend. The Vatreni looked leggy in their loss to Argentina on Tuesday and this could be one game too many for them, especially after the disappointment of that defeat by Lionel Messi and co.
Morocco might be underdogs but anyone who has watched them at this tournament knows that Regragui and his players will not mind that one bit.
This is a team that is made to sit back, defend deep, and then spring forward quickly on the counter-attack. Croatia like to play at a slower tempo, so if Morocco can break with the speed they should get plenty of joy.
The main question mark against the Atlas Lions concerns the defense, where three of their first-choice starters - Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd, and Noussair Mazraoui - look set to miss out through injury. That is a blow, but Regragui has coached a well-drilled defensive structure that should be able to absorb a few individual absences.
With all that in mind, take advantage of attractive odds of +200 and back Morocco to beat Croatia in the second-to-last match at World Cup 2022.
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Teams: Croatia vs Morocco
Location: Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar
Time: Saturday, 17 December 2022, 10:00 AM EST
How to Watch: Fox Sports, Telemundo, fuboTV
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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