It’s not completely over yet for Croatia or Morocco.
The Vatreni suffered elimination after falling 3-0 to Lionel Messi and Argentina in the semifinal of the 2022 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday, but there’s still a path left to a medal.
On the other side of things, Morocco fell to France in a 2-0 domination during the second World Cup semifinal on Wednesday.
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Despite the two devastating losses, Croatia and Morocco will have the opportunity to compete in the third-place game on Saturday. This will be Croatia's second time doing so in the tournament’s history and it will be Morocco's first time. In 1998, Croatia beat the Netherlands 2-1 to win bronze in its first World Cup appearance.
This time, Croatia will duke it out against Morocco to see who will take home a bronze-level position as third place victors.
How will Croatia fare against Morocco on Saturday? Let’s preview the matchup before the first whistle blows:
What can we expect during the Croatia vs. Morocco matchup Saturday?
You know the Spider-Man meme where they’re pointing at each other? That’s how this matchup would look like.
Croatia all tournament has prioritized being stout defensively and in the midfield since it can’t punish teams in many ways offensively. The longer it can draw out games for at least a point in group play and a penalty shootout in the knockout rounds, the better. But against the wrong team, that strategy can backfire, as Argentina showed. Lionel Messi and Julian Álvarez proved to be too much to handle, and the Vatreni had just two shots on target in 12 attempts.
But how did the team beat Brazil? With stout goalkeeping, as Dominik Livaković logged 11 saves – Brazil had 11 shots on target in regulation and extra time. The expected goals from the Brazil win versus the Argentina loss tell you two things: Croatia should have lost in the quarterfinals and its lack of goals would cost them. This time it was the latter. Croatia’s performances just weren’t sustainable to win games. Brazil’s style was -- given the number of chances it produced -- but that’s the nature of knockout football.
Morocco is in the same boat. The Atlas Lions have better attacking outlets than Croatia, but they don’t have the ability to sustain pressure like the Vatreni. It’s why they were ranked 31st in expected goals created in the tournament after beating Spain in a penalty shootout after being tied 0-0 through 120 minutes.
Similarly to Croatia, the Atlas Lions have a sturdy four-man backline that had seen Yassine Bounou not concede a goal from the opposition in the first five matches. The only one was an own goal against Canada. Currently, injuries to center backs Nayef Aguerd and Romain Saïss were worrisome, but they got past Portugal unscathed before losing to France. Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui are also the best fullback duo left among the four nations.