Who will grab 3rd Spot?
World Cup third place match preview
Both Croatia and Morocco, who contest Saturday’s third-place match at the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2022, have plenty to be proud of. Both have pulled off historic campaigns, ruffling feathers and recording famous wins, and will be keen to go out on a high.
The Atlas Lions, playing in their sixth World Cup, started with a hard-fought goalless draw against, ironically enough, Croatia. What followed then was a rousing win 2-0 over Belgium, the second-best nation in the world per the FIFA Rankings, thanks to goals from substitutes Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal. This left them in a strong position going into their final group match against Canada: avoid a loss and they would advance.
Walid Regragui’s side went one better, however. A fast start saw them two ahead at half-time thanks to goals by Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri, and they then weathered a late onslaught to win 2-1 and claim headship of the group.
What awaited them, however, was a meeting with Spain, who finished runners-up in Group E. The Spaniards, true to type, dominated the ball, but struggled to fashion clear chances against a disciplined Morocco block, and were limited to one shot on target. After a gruelling 120 minutes, it was the African side that emerged triumphant in the ensuing penalty shoot-out, with goalkeeper Bono saving three kicks. That win made Morocco only the fourth African team to reach the last eight at a World Cup.
Portugal in the quarter-finals, therefore, afforded them the chance to make history. They seized the opportunity with both hands, En-Nesyri rising highest to head home a floated cross ahead of Ruben Dias and goalkeeper Diogo Costa. Once again, Morocco were disciplined, even as the fitness of key players faltered, and held on to their advantage until the very end to become the first African team to reach a World Cup semi-final.
The last four would prove a step too far, however. World Cup 2018 winners France proved to have too much quality where it mattered, and scored early and late to win 2-0, bringing an end to the greatest African World Cup fairytale of all.
Following an opening goalless draw against Morocco, the 2018 World Cup finalists came from behind to defeat Canada, with a brace from Andrej Kramaric and strikes by Marko Livaja and Lovro Majer. This meant that a result against Belgium would suffice; thanks to the profligacy of Romelu Lukaku, as well as some obdurate defending, they just about managed it, drawing 0-0 to advance to the knockout stage.
There they faced Japan, and again they were required to come from behind. The Samurai Blue took the lead in the first half, but Croatia roared back in the second half, reclaiming some control and levelling through Ivan Perisic’s powerful header. With no further scoring, a penalty shoot-out ensued, and goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was the hero, thwarting Japan to secure a place in the quarter-finals for Croatia.
Brazil were clearly the better side in their last-eight meeting, and Livakovic was required to come to the rescue on a number of occasions to keep them at bay. Brazil ultimately broke through late in extra time, but just when it looked like Zlatko Dalic and his men were done, they stormed forward on the counter. Substitutes Mislav Orsic and Bruno Petkovic combined, with the latter sweeping Croatia’s only shot on target of the game into the back of the net. This forced a shoot-out and, again, Livakovic was big, saving two Brazilian kicks to eliminate the five-time champions.
Having dispatched one South American powerhouse to reach the last four, Croatia would have to get past another if they were to make their second final in as many World Cups. However, Argentina were unwilling to allow another shoot-out, and were rewarded for a fast start with a two-goal half-time lead. Tasked with chasing the game, Croatia looked a lot less assured, and Argentina applied the finishing touch in the second half to advance to the final at their expense. The piece of wizardry that preceded the third proved once and for all that this is very much the Lionel Messi World Cup.
Their previous meeting in the competition finished goalless. While it was a tactically fascinating match, it offered little entertainment and/or excitement; this is likely to follow the same pattern. There is something about these sides’ respective approaches to football that suggests they will almost always cancel each other out.
Morocco will be keen for their adventure to end on a positive note, and so will approach this game with maximum desire. Likewise, while Croatia have played in a final before, they will also want to salvage some pride: this is, after all, a small nation that has made a habit out of punching above its weight. A third-place finish would go some way toward giving some of their retiring players, like Dejan Lovren, Ivan Perisic and Luka Modric, a befitting send-off.
That means they may be more willing than before to commit to attack, and so there is a chance that they both cut loose. In that case…
As is obvious, this is one game that could in completely different ways, so perhaps the best play is to look to the corners market. Croatia attack at a very slow, deliberate pace, and neither team takes a lot of shots, so it makes sense to…
/ 10 months ago
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