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Croatia national football team
World Cup | Third-Place Playoff
Dec 17, 2022 at 3pm UK
Khalifa International Stadium
Morocco national football team

2 - 1

Gvardiol (7'), Orsic (42')
FT(HT: 2-1)
Dari (9')
Ounahi (69'), Amallah (84')

Preview: Croatia vs. Morocco - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's World Cup clash between Croatia and Morocco, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

A World Cup 2022 bronze medal is on the line between Croatia and Morocco in Saturday's third-placed playoff at the Khalifa International Stadium, and neither side should turn their noses up to a podium finish on the grandest stage.

Zlatko Dalic's side were comfortably seen off 3-0 by Argentina in their semi-final, while the Atlas Lions fought valiantly against France but were put to the sword by two goals to nil.

Match preview

Croatia players react during their penalty-shootout win over Brazil at the World Cup on December 9, 2022© Reuters

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.

Randal Kolo Muani scores for France against Morocco on December 14, 2022© Reuters

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.

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 World Cup form:

Morocco World Cup form:

Team News

Croatia's Josko Gvardiol pictured at the World Cup on December 9, 2022© Reuters

Injury was added to insult for Croatia in their semi-final loss to Argentina, as midfield fulcrum Marcelo Brozovic was a 50th-minute withdrawal due to discomfort and is classed as a major doubt for the third-placed playoff.

Twenty-year-old centre-back Gvardiol needed injections to play through the pain of a foot injury in midweek, and Dalic has insisted that he will not risk any player who is not 100% fit, so Lovro Majer and Kristijan Jakic should be on standby to cover for Brozovic in the middle if needed.

Another highly-rated centre-back in Josip Sutalo could take the place of Gvardiol, while Ivan Perisic should hold his place on the left as he aims to become Croatia's all-time leading goalscorer at the World Cup, with the Tottenham Hotspur man currently level with Davor Suker on six apiece.

Right-back Josip Juranovic was unable to take part in training on Friday too, so Josip Stanistic may be required to fill in for his stricken teammate here.

As for Morocco, Regragui surprisingly recovered all of Aguerd, Mazraoui and Saiss for their semi-final, but the injured triumvirate dropped out one by one - in Aguerd's case just before the first whistle blew.

Saiss was also hauled off after 20 minutes after being beaten for pace by Olivier Giroud and has been ruled out, while Mazraoui came off during the half-time interval to leave Regragui back where he started on the injury front.

It is difficult to envisage Regragui risking Mazraoui or Aguerd from the first whistle for Saturday's contest, so a return to a 4-3-3 may be in order as Yahia Attiyat Allah and Selim Amallah aim to force their way back into the starting lineup.

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Stanisic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Jakic, Kovacic; Vlasic, Kramaric, Perisic

Morocco possible starting lineup:
Bono; Hakimi, El-Yamiq, Dari, Attiyat-Allah; Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah; Ziyech, En-Nesyri, Boufal

SM words green background

We say: Croatia 0-1 Morocco

A trident of injured defenders would not spell optimism for any side, but Morocco's backline stand-ins have put in performances to be proud of and are now facing a Croatia XI who are not renowned for any sort of attacking mastery.

Rearguards will likely come out on top in this bronze medal battle, but Regragui's side need only improve their final ball to make their periods of pressure count, and we have belief in the Atlas Lions to do just that and end a magical World Cup journey with a podium finish.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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Tables header RHS

Group A

Q Germany Germany32107
Q Switzerland Switzerland31205
3 Hungary Hungary31023
4 Scotland flag Scotland30121

Group B

Q Spain Spain33009
Q Italy Italy31114
3 Croatia Croatia30212
4 Albania national flag Albania30121

Group C

Q England flag England21104
2 Denmark Denmark20202
3 Slovenia Slovenia20202
4 Serbia Serbia20111

Group D

Q Netherlands Netherlands21104
Q France France21104
3 Austria Austria21013
4 Poland Poland20020

Group E

1 Romania Romania21013
2 Belgium Belgium21013
3 Slovakia Slovakia21013
4 Ukraine Ukraine21013

Group F

Q Portugal Portugal22006
2 Turkey Turkey21013
3 Czech Republic Czech Republic20111
4 Georgia Georgia20111

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