Morocco can be proud of playing a seventh game at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, even if it is not Sunday’s final, head coach Walid Regragui has said.
Their historic run saw them become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals, but they were beaten by France Wednesday.
Saturday they face Croatia in the match to decide who finishes third.
“We would have liked things to go differently and play the final,” said Regragui.
“There is another game to play, we would like to be on the podium.
“I understand that it’s important to finish third rather than fourth, but what I take away is that we didn’t reach the final. We wanted to play the final on Sunday, not play tomorrow.
“But I told my players it was our seventh World Cup game. If you told a Morocco fan that we would play our seventh game on December 17, he would be proud.
“Morocco played six World Cup games in about 20 years and now we’ve played six games in a month – it’s priceless. It’s like we’ve played two World Cups or even more, c is magnificent from an experiential point of view.”
Morocco and 2018 runners-up Croatia will end the tournament as they started – playing each other.
The two nations played out a goalless draw in Group F on November 23 at Al Bayt Stadium, but Regragui predicts a better encounter on Saturday.
“We knew Croatia would be one of the best teams in the competition,” he added. “After the first game, we knew the performance was very good.
“A lot of people said that Croatia was nearing the end of their cycle and they would have the rug under their feet. Croatia got blamed for not beating ‘outsider’ Morocco, but both teams have reached the semi-finals.
“There was a lot of hesitation for the first game. Both teams will want to win it and it will be a great game.”
The match could be Croatian captain Luka Modric’s last with the national team and Regragui has praised the 37-year-old Real Madrid midfielder.
“I don’t know if this is Modric’s last game, he’s a competitive warrior and he’ll want to finish his World Cup in style. When he wants to finish on a high note, you have to beware,” said Regragui .
“Hats off to Modric. What he is doing at 37 is monumental. He won the Ballon d’Or and I fully understand why.”
Regragui has confirmed skipper Romain Saiss will not be fit for the game, after risking his captain just ’60-70 per cent’ in the semi-finals, a decision that backfired when he limped off after only 20 minutes.
“We took a risk but it was a risk worth taking,” added Regragui.
“We wanted to fight with him at the head of the battalion. We still have a few injured players but we’ll see how it goes.
“We really, really pushed our players to their limits, but they still want to go out and play again. We’re still going to take risks.”
Croatia could be without midfielder Marcelo Brozokic, who was knocked out in the semi-final loss to Argentina.
Centre-back Josko Gvardiol, who has impressed throughout the tournament, is nursing a foot injury but could still play.
- None of the last 19 World Cup third-place play-offs have been sanctioned, with only one being settled in extra time (France v Belgium in 1986). A European nation has finished third in the last 10 World Cups since Brazil beat Italy in 1978.
- This is Croatia’s second play-off for third place in the World Cup, having beaten the Netherlands 2-1 in the 1998 edition.
- Croatia conceded as many goals in their 3-0 semi-final loss to Argentina as in their previous five 2022 World Cup games combined. They also faced more shots than any other team in this tournament (75).
- Morocco conceded more goals in their 2-0 semi-final loss to France than they had conceded in their previous five matches at this combined World Cup (one). They could still become the eighth team to keep up to five clean sheets in a single tournament, after the Netherlands (1974), Italy (1990), Brazil (1994), France (1998), Germany (2002), Italy (2006) and Spain (2010).
- Modric has played in all six of Croatia’s games at this World Cup. Only goalkeepers Peter Shilton (1990) and Dino Zoff (1982) have played more World Cup games when they were aged 37 or over (seven each).
- Ivan Perisic has scored six World Cup goals for Croatia – one more would make him their top scorer in the competition, overtaking Davor Suker.