The FIFA World Cup knockouts can be cruel games. It saw Cristiano Ronaldo – one of the greatest ever to play the game – leave the tournament after the quarterfinals, while Luka Modric – a Ballon D’Or winner and the runner-up in the previous World Cup – lose in the semis.
But Croatia and Morocco – two of the teams that have been – that have made it to the semis for the third and first-ever time respectively, will play out one last match, eyeing the third spot, at the Khalifa International Stadium on December 17, 2022.
Here are three key battles expected in the match:
Sofiane Boufal vs Luka Modric
Sofiane Boufal has been one of Morocco’s architects of attacking along the flanks, be it the darting runs along the left (against Portugal), or dribbling past defenders (against Spain).
The defending champion, France, faced a challenging task containing the 29-year-old in its box and will be a headache for the Croat defence as well. The triumvirate of Marcelo Brozovic, Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic will find a fresh task to stop the winger in his tracks.
Modric, operating in the right in the mid-block is expected to be vested with the responsibility. The Real Madrid veteran was everywhere on the pitch against Argentina, taking free kicks and tracking back on time to clear.
In Croatia’s last attempt at a podium finish in his last World Cup match, this contest will be the most interesting one in this bronze-medal match.
Youssef En-Nesyri vs Domink Livakovic
Youssef En-Nesyri’s towering header propelled the Atlas Lions into the semifinals – the first African country to do so. Morocco’s only goalscorer with more than a goal in Qatar 2022, the 25-year-old has led the attack with style, scoring and celebrating in style.
Against him, stands Dominik Livakovic, the goalkeeper who saved Croatia from the cusp of defeat, not once, but twice. It was Livakovic between the sticks that saw five-time World Champion, Brazil, get eliminated in the quarterfinals.
While Livakovic may just miss out on the golden glove, despite his heroics, this match may just be a chance to show who is boss in a match which features another ‘keeper who had a great campaign, Yassine Bounou.
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Hakim Ziyech vs Josko Gvardiol
Hakim Ziyech is not a No.9, but what he brings to the table is his flow of attacks from the flank – which was a common sight at Ajax and can still be seen when the Moroccan stars with Chelsea.
Already a Champions League winner, Ziyech has been the heart of set pieces and attacks along the right flank, scoring and assisting a goal each in this World Cup so far.
Josko Gvardiol, on the other hand, has been a revelation for Croatia. He has been a vital cog in defence as it remained the only undefeated side (alongside Morocco) up to the semifinal.
The third-place match may just be his shot at redemption after he was embarrassed by Lionel Messi, when the Argentine rounded him, and went on to assist in his side’s third goal int the semifinal.
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