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FIFA World Cup 2022 Third-Place Match Preview: Croatia vs. Morocco

Al Khor, Qatar; Morocco defender Achraf Hakimi (2) dribbles the ball against France during the first half of a semifinal match during the 2022 World Cup at Al Bayt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

Only the consolation prize of third place will be on the line when Croatia and Morocco face each other for the second time at this World Cup on Dec. 17 at Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar.

It’s not the matchup either side was hoping for on the final weekend of the tournament. France ended Morocco’s historic run in the semifinals on Wednesday, while Argentina handled Croatia a day earlier.

While there’s just pride (and bronze medals) on the line, both teams will still be determined to end on a high note. For Croatia, this probably marks the end of their “golden generation,” with many key players likely to retire or be phased out of the side after this tournament. Meanwhile, Morocco will be keen to finish off a remarkable World Cup by becoming the first side from outside of Europe and South America to win the third-place match.

These sides drew 0-0 in their opening group game, but the reduced pressure of the third-place bout will hopefully encourage more attacking football.

Croatia Key Player: Luke Modrić

While managers tend to rotate their teams in the third-place game, there’s little to no doubt that Modrić will be making an appearance at some stage. At 37 years old, this might be the Real Madrid midfielder’s final World Cup game, and as always, he will be key to Croatia’s success.

Unsurprisingly, Modrić has topped the passing charts at this World Cup, posting a 90.7 passing grade (third among midfielders), completing the second-most line-breaking passes (51) and making eight key passes.

Against Argentina, he finished with a respectable 89.47% pass completion rate and an 86.3 dribbling grade but could not find the spark to unlock the defense. Taking on a Moroccan side that has conceded only three goals so far, Modric will need one last vintage performance.

Morocco Key Player: Achraf Hakimi

Morocco has been beset with a number of injuries to key players, particularly on defense, so while manager Walid Regragui is likely to make several changes, he may need to rely on Hakimi to shore up a makeshift backline. The PSG man has been one of the standout players of the World Cup and is as much a threat going forward as he is solid defensively.

The right back completed six line-breaking passes against France, and his 85.8 passing grade was the best of any player in the semifinals. Hakimi has been incredible defensively, standing alone as the only defender to earn 80.0-plus PFF grades in aerial duels (81.7), 50-50 duels (82.7) and challenges (80.8).

Matchup to watch: Ivan Perišić vs. Morocco’s defense

Croatia will be looking to avoid a third penalty shootout in this World Cup and will need to break down Morocco’s solid defense to do so. Key Moroccan defenders Romain Saïss, Nayef Aguerd and Noussair Mazraoui are all dealing with injuries, so Regragui will likely name a much-changed team. He might also be tempted to give his other goalkeepers a run out in place of the impressive Yassine Bounou, whose 83.0 shot-stopping grade ranks third best at the World Cup.

While Croatia’s average expected goals of 0.91 suggests this may be a low-scoring encounter, one player to keep an eye on is Ivan Perišić. Usually playing wide on the right for Croatia, the Tottenham man has the chance to become his country's all-time leading scorer at the World Cup if he scores against Morocco.

Perišić leads the team with 17 shots but has just a 41.17% adjusted shots on target rate. His relatively average 68.7 shooting grade suggests he may have his work cut out for him if he wants to add to his tally.

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