- Who: Croatia vs Morocco
- Where: Khalifa International Stadium
- When: December 17, 6pm (15:00 GMT)
- FIFA ranking: Croatia (12), Morocco (22)
- Head to head: Played twice, Croatia winning once, one draw
- Last five matches:
- Croatia: LWWDW
- Morocco: LWWWW
It is the end of the road for Croatia and Morocco at this World Cup. Regardless of the result, both sides will be heading home without the trophy.
But as this World Cup – which has brought so many shocks, so much drama and seen so many dreams being shattered as well as coming true – draws to a close, these two teams have a unique opportunity for their swan song: to say farewell to Qatar with heads held high and reflect on what has been done and what may be to come.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
It seems like a lifetime since their last meeting, a nervy 0-0 draw in their opening Group F game, just three weeks ago. What that match lacked in goals, it made up for in intensity, as both teams wrestled for dominance. But we are unlikely to see those same nerves on Saturday, with neither Croatia nor Morocco having anything to lose now.
For Croatia, it is likely a goodbye for midfield general Luka Modric. The 37-year-old captain has been instrumental in Croatia’s resurgence as a footballing power over the past 15 years. He was part of the squad for the European Championships of 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020, and appeared at World Cups in 2006, 2014, 2018 and 2022.
It is a phrase that gets used too often but it will be the end of an era when Modric retires from international football.
For Morocco, it is a moment to receive adulation and thanks from a world that dared for a few weeks to believe in the impossible – and for the team to show us once again what they are capable of in the next international cycle.
The Atlas Lions may have been regarded by many as underdogs but you do not get to a World Cup semifinal with just luck. They earned their success through guile, hard work and talent. Their story, their unlikely tale of winning against the odds – again and again – is why we all love this game.
“Having already completed a hat-trick of World Cup firsts for Africa, history once again beckons for Morocco and Walid Regragui’s men,” David Webber, a researcher into the cultural and political economy of football at Solent University, told Al Jazeera.
“Perhaps Morocco’s performance at this World Cup will be enough to persuade FIFA delegates to finally award the tournament itself to Morocco after several failed bids in the past.
“Irrespective of Saturday’s result, the Moroccans will bring the noise and the passion that they have throughout the tournament and, in so doing, celebrate a team that has given the nation and North African region the most memorable month of its rich footballing history.”
Morocco may have been the story of this World Cup but Croatia are no less deserving. This game is about pride. To paraphrase James Goldman’s The Lion In Winter, “when the fall is all that’s left, it matters”.
Croatia punches above its weight like no other European footballing power. This is a country of fewer than four million people. They were only recognised by FIFA in 1992 and yet ended their first-ever World Cup campaign with a third-place finish just six years later.
Modric now has the chance to depart the international stage with the final flourish his incredible career deserves, notes Webber.
“This World Cup has been about ‘the last dance’ for so many of Modric’s contemporaries,” he said.
“And while all eyes will be on Messi on Sunday evening to see whether he can finally lead Argentina to World Cup glory, Saturday’s match against Morocco affords Croatia’s own number 10 the opportunity to bow out with a victory rather than the pain of a semifinal defeat.”
No one wants to be playing this game. But now they are here, the dreamers of Morocco and the warriors of Croatia will be giving it their all.
History is there to be made and the only thing at stake is immortality.