Croatia’s third consecutive World Cup campaign gets underway on Wednesday at Al Bayt Stadium against bottom-seed Group F nation Morocco.
Having finished bottom of their 2018 group with a single point, the Moroccans cannot complain about the odds being stacked against them despite an inspiring streak of seven unbeaten internationals (W5, D2).
Walid Regragui’s men head into the tournament keen to at least equal their all-time best run in the competition when they qualified for the round of 16 in 1986 as the first African nation to top a World Cup group.
Interestingly, most of Regragui’s men in Qatar were not even born the last time Morocco claimed a World Cup victory, courtesy of a 3-0 demolition of Scotland in 1998.
The Atlas Lions could not have asked for a sterner test at the start of the 2022 World Cup, with the 2018 beaten finalists Croatia lining up against them.
Memories of a 4-2 defeat to France in the grand final four years ago are still fresh in the Croatian camp as their captain and best player, Luka Modric, prepares to lead his country at the tournament one last time.
The Real Madrid ace was central to the Blazers’ remarkable run in Russia, which ultimately earned him the Ballon d’Or that year and defined him as one of the best midfielders of all time.
Croatia’s identity and self-esteem came to light earlier this year when Zlatko Dalic’s team racked up four consecutive wins to break into the 2022/23 UEFA Nations League finals.
Morocco’s recent fortunes at the world’s biggest stage cast doubt on their hopes of defying their underdog status in this group, as they’ve only won one of their last ten World Cup matches (D2, L7).
Adding to this sentiment, the Atlas Lions’ all-time record against active UEFA nations currently in FIFA’s top 40 spells more trouble on their bleak prospects in this fixture (W8, D9, L18).
But with Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri headlining the attack, the Moroccans will fancy their chances in the front third, especially after scoring 2+ goals in six of their last seven outings.
Flying out of the traps has historically been the key to Croatia’s success at the World Cup finals, as they’ve reached at least the semi-finals in both previous tournaments they’ve started with a win.
Dalic’s men have hit a purple patch at the best possible moment, winning five successive games in the lead-up to the tournament, including victories over Denmark and France.
Those triumphs contributed to the Blazers’ top-place finish in Group A1, perhaps bolstering the spirits of the squad that will be lacking a couple of key figures from 2018 in the shape of Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic.
Morocco v Croatia Head-to-Head Record
Morocco and Croatia have only played once before, in 1996, a friendly game that Morocco lost on penalties after finishing the game 2-2 in normal time.
Croatia are substantially more experienced than their rivals in international competitions, and we don’t see this being a draw this time around.
Morocco vs Croatia Potential Line-ups
Morocco (4-3-3): Bono; Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd, Noussair Mazraoui; Azzedine Ounahi, Sofyan Amrabat, Selim Amallah; Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri, Sofiane Boufal.
Croatia (4-3-3): Dominik Livakovic; Josip Stanisic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Barisic; Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic; Nikola Vlasic, Bruno Petkovic, Ivan Perisic.
Morocco vs Croatia Prediction
With both sides boasting a wealth of attacking potential, an enthralling affair could be in store as we expect both nations to trouble the scoresheet.
But Croatia should still be walking away with three points.
Morocco 1-2 Croatia
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