Croatia will be keen to repeat their magical run from the 2018 edition when they take on a plucky Morocco side at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Croatia will take on Morocco in their Group F opener at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday at the World Cup in Qatar. The Vatreni go into the tie as the favourites and will be expected to put Morocco to the task.

Zlatko Dalic’s side stunned the world when they made it to the final of the 2018 edition in Russia. However, there was no fairytale ending as they fell to a rampant French side that went on to lift their second world crown.

Croatia saw off Russia to top their group in qualification and have a squad that is brimming with youth and experience. Some of their key players are on their last legs and will be keen to end their international career on a high.

Drawn alongside Belgium, Morocco and Canada in Group F, Dalic and co. will be expected to qualify for the knockout rounds. As long as they avoid any unpleasant surprises, there is every reason to believe they can upset the applecart for a second time at the world stage.

Morocco defeated DR Congo 5-2 on aggregate in the CAF playoffs to secure their spot in Qatar. The Atlas Lions have a squad that is smattered with some world-class talents and will be hopeful of ending their 24-year wait for a win at the stage. The Hard Tackle takes a look at how both nations could line up on the night and what to expect.

Team News & Tactics

Morocco

Despite not securing a win at the 2018 edition in Russia, Morocco, to their credit, did much better than what it appears on paper. They lost out to Portugal by a narrow 1-0 margin and were denied a famous win against Spain by a stoppage-time equaliser.

Despite falling short in recent international tournaments, Walid Regragui’s side are unbeaten in five games going into their World Cup opener. Croatia are without several of the players who impressed in Russia, and there is reason to believe that Morocco’s match-winners could cause an upset.

Morocco do have a couple ofJ injury concerns to take into account for the game. Abdelhamid Sabiri is a doubt for the game, while Abdessamad Ezzalzouli is nursing a hamstring injury.

Morocco are likely to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that can get the best out of their top stars. Yassine Bounou should start in goal behind the back four of Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd and Noussair Mazraoui.

The duo of Sofyan Amrabat and Azzedine Ounahi should form the double pivot and will hope to keep Croatia’s midfield led by Luka Modric in check. Keeping the Real Madrid playmaker shackled will certainly take the steam out of Croatia’s build-up play.

Hakim Ziyech will lead Morocco’s creative side of things and will hope to leave a lasting impression on the tournament. Alongside Sofiane Boufal and Selim Amallah, the Chelsea playmaker will hope to craft opportunities for Youssef En-Nesyri upfront.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Bono; Hakimi, Saiss, Aguerd, Mazraoui; Amrabat, Ounahi; Amallah, Boufal, Ziyech; En-Nesyri

Croatia

Last edition’s runners-up arrived in Qatar with renewed optimism following a good run of form to the tournament. Croatia were admittedly given the rub of luck at crucial moments in Russia and will hope that it holds up for the second tournament in a row.

Zlatko Dalic will retain a few key pieces from the previous squad but will also have to make do without some key cogs who are not more part of the setup. The Vatreni might appear weaker on paper but go into the game on the back of just one loss in their last 16 games.

They also negotiated a tough UEFA Nations League group, leveraging an away win against world champions France to boot. Dalic will have enough reasons to believe his rebooted side can repeat their heroics from four years ago.

Croatia are likely to set up in a 4-3-3 formation with Dominik Livakovic in goal. He will start behind the back four of Josip Stanisic, Josip Sutalo, Josko Gvardiol and Borna Sosa. The nation’s strength lies in its midfield trio of Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Marcelo Brozovic. How well the trio play could dictate how the game is played out.

Nikola Vlasic and Ivan Perisic will be tasked with providing the spark in attack and also width out on the flanks. Croatia have failed to adequately replace Mario Mandzukic and now have to rely on Marko Livaja to bang in the goals.

Dalic likes his sides to keep possession of the ball and make use of his full-backs for width and to spam crosses into the box. With them lacking an infallible goalscorer upfront, the onus will also fall on the midfield runners to push forward and overwhelm the opposition by sheer weight of numbers.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Livakovic; Stanisic, Sutalko, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Vlasic, Livaja, Perisic

Key Stats

  • This is the first World Cup meeting between both sides. Their only previous matchup was in 1996 in the Hassan II trophy. The game ended 2-2 with Croatia prevailing 7-6 on penalties.
  • Croatia have faced African opposition twice at the World Cup. They have won the ties 6-0 on aggregate and are yet to concede a single goal.
  • Morocco have not qualified from the group stages of the World Cup since 1986.
  • Morocco have failed to win a game at the World Cup since the victory over Scotland in 1998.
  • 12 of the 14 goals that Morocco have scored at the World Cup has come from open play.

Player to Watch

Ivan Perisic

Can Ivan Perisic make another telling impact for Croatia this year? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Tottenham Hotspur wide man is an electric presence down the flank and played a key role in Croatia’s run to the final in 2018. Despite turning 33 earlier this year, Perisic remains a key member of the setup and has often popped up with key goals for the club and country.

His directness coupled with his willingness to put in the hard work makes him a difficult man to keep quiet. While Modric is the one to pull the strings in midfield, it is Perisic who provides the cutting-edge upfront. Given the lack of a reliable goalscorer, Morocco could gain the upper hand over Croatia should they keep Perisic quiet on the night.

Prediction

Morocco 1-2 Croatia

Both sides have reasonably good form going into the game and could put up an exciting encounter. Morocco have key players within the squad who can hurt the Europeans despite the latter going into the clash as favourites.

While the Atlas Lions will make life tough for Luka Modric and co, Croatia’s upper-hand in terms of quality and depth should prove decisive. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Zlatko Dalic and his charges.

Comments 1

  1. Mubarak says:

    Nice 👍

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