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2022 FIFA World Cup: Third-Place Playoff Preview

2022 FIFA World Cup
Croatia and Morocco opened up their 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign against each other and will now end it against each other in the 3rd-Place Playoff. (Photo by Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

2022 FIFA World Cup: Third-Place Playoff Preview

Before the 2022 FIFA World Cup Final takes place on Sunday, Dec. 18, the third-place match is up. It is the game that no one wants to be in as the losers of the two semifinals face off, with this year, Croatia taking on Morocco in a rematch from the opening match of Group F. 

The group stage clash was the opening match at the 2022 World Cup for both Morocco and Croatia. That match was a snooze fest finishing 0-0 with neither team really even looking like scoring. However, since then, there have been excitement and close matches for both squads. 

Croatia has gone to penalties twice in the knockout stage. In the Round of 16, they played Japan and won 3-1 in the penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw. Then, in the quarterfinals, Croatia snuck past Brazil on penalties. A late extra-time goal from Bruno Petković tied up the scoreline at 1-1 and sent the match to penalties. In the shootout, Croatia won 4-2 to advance to the semifinal.

The semifinal exposed Croatia’s lack of an attack and reliance on getting the match to extra time or even penalties. Against Argentina, Croatia was completely outmatched by the duo of Lionel Messi and Julián Álvarez. The pair combined for three goals and one assist on way to a 3-0 bludgeoning of Croatia. 

Losing in the semifinal hurts a Croatian side that will be losing a few players following the third-place playoff.

In all likelihood, this match against Morocco will be the last for Luka Modrić in a Croatia shirt. The 37-year-old has been playing his heart out for Croatia in what could be his final World Cup. He will be 41 when the 2026 World Cup takes place, and it seems unlikely that he will make the trip to North America to represent his country. 

Losing in the semifinal was a sour end for a Croatia team that was looking to make it back to their second straight World Cup Final. It would have been an incredible feat for a team that had previously made just one semifinal in their short history.

While Croatia may be coming to the end of an era, Morocco is just getting started. The surprise team of the 2022 World Cup made history by becoming the first African team to appear in a World Cup Semifinal. Despite the 2-0 loss to France, there is nothing for Morocco to hang their heads about. A chance to improve on what is already the best finish by an African nation is on the line against Croatia.

It has been surprisingly smooth sailing for Morocco despite having played five of the top 12 teams in the FIFA rankings. There may have been a loss to France (No. 4) and a draw against Croatia (No. 12), but “The Atlas Lions” beat Belgium (No. 2), Spain (No. 7), and Portugal (No. 9) en route to the semifinals. 

It was the 2-0 win over Belgium in the group stage that really put Morocco on upset watch. Belgium was lucky not to lose that by much more since they were utterly dominated by the North African side.

Against Spain, in the Round of 16, and Portugal in the quarterfinals, it was the Moroccan defense that continued to play well. Morocco sat back defensively and let Spain possess the ball, but never let the Spaniards have a real shot at goal. Eventually, it went to penalties where Yassine Bounou stepped up and won the match for Morocco stopping all three penalty shots from Spain.

The Portugal match was another defensive masterclass. Portugal had nearly 75% of the possession but could not break through the Moroccan defense. What made this more impressive was that Portugal scored six goals in their Round of 16 match against Switzerland and finally looked to have found their scoring boots.

A lot of the defensive success has to be credited to Achraf Hakimi and Romain Saïss. Hakimi at right-back has been almost unbeatable. While Saïss has been a leader from the center-back position. He picked up an injury against Portugal that saw him be subbed off early against France which was a huge loss for Morocco. Up until the France match, Morocco had not allowed an opponent to score against them. The only blemish against Morocco was an own goal against Canada. 

Key Players

As good as the defense has been for Morocco, one of the best players in the whole 2022 World Cup has been Sofyan Amrabat. The midfielder has been superb all over the pitch. He is seen getting up in the attack but also tracks back defensively. He made possibly the tackle of the tournament by chasing down Kylian Mbappé in the semifinal and taking the ball away from the speedy Frenchman. Amrabat’s play in Qatar has seen him rise up the list of transfer targets for numerous top teams including Barcelona and Liverpool.

For Croatia, their key player for the last decade has been Modrić. The midfielder does everything for his team and is a big reason that they made it to the semifinal in the 2022 World Cup. Modrić controls the tempo of play like no other and orchestrates the Croatian attack with his elite passing. A win in the third-place playoff would be a good farewell to the international career of Croatia’s greatest player. 

Prediction

The third-place match is always difficult to predict because some players could be benched, and others may be unmotivated after falling just short of making the Final. However, I do not think that will necessarily be the case for Morocco. Sure, missing out on a trip to the final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is devastating, but a third-place finish is just as impressive by a team that very few thought would even get out of the group stage. I have Morocco winning the rematch 1-0.

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