Morocco and Croatia play for 3rd place at World Cup

Dec 15, 2022, 2:33 PM | Updated: Dec 16, 2022, 4:37 am
Croatia's Ivan Perisic, top, vies for a ball with Morocco's Achraf Hakimi during the World Cup grou...

Croatia's Ivan Perisic, top, vies for a ball with Morocco's Achraf Hakimi during the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

              Morocco's head coach Walid Regragui celebrates winning the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match against Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
            
              Morocco's head coach Walid Regragui celebrate at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
            
              Croatia's Marcelo Brozovic, left, defends a ball against Morocco's Abde Ezzalzouli during the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
            
              Croatia's Mislav Orsic (18), Luka Modric (10) and Borna Sosa (19) react following the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
            
              From left, Morocco's Sofiane Boufal, Croatia's Mario Pasalic, and Morocco's Selim Amallah vie for the ball during the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
            
              Croatia's Ivan Perisic, top, vies for a ball with Morocco's Achraf Hakimi during the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
            
              Croatia's Dejan Lovren, left, vies for the ball with Morocco's Abderrazak Hamdallah during the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
            
              Croatia's Luka Modric waves to fans after the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
            
              Croatia's Marcelo Brozovic, left, Morocco's Selim Amallah, Croatia's Dejan Lovren, vie for the ball during the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — To some, it’s little more than a meaningless exhibition match. To others, it’s a chance to become “immortal.”

The third-place playoff at the World Cup can be a confusing concept.

“You are so disappointed, you’ve just lost a semifinal and then two days later you have to go back out there,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said Friday.

Regragui’s history-making team — the first African nation to reach the World Cup semifinals — will play Croatia on Saturday at Khalifa International Stadium.

“It’s like the booby prize,” Regragui said. “I am sorry for speaking like this. I understand that it should be important, I understand that it is better to finish third than fourth, but for, me my takeaway is that we just didn’t get to the final.”

Morocco’s run to the semifinals in Qatar provided the most improbable story of the tournament. The team was also the first Arab nation to go so far in soccer’s biggest event, generating an outpouring of pride among Arab countries.

After such a wild and dizzying ride, it’s understandable that Regragui sounded so flat when looking ahead to the match against Croatia. It’s also a measure of his own ambition that he ends an unforgettable tournament for African soccer with a sense of disappointment after being beaten by defending champion France 2-0.

“Yes, finishing third would be great for our image. We would be on the podium,” the coach said. “But you know what, even if we win the game tomorrow we won’t have got to the final and we won’t have won the World Cup.”

The atmosphere from the Croatian side has been more upbeat.

The runners-up from the last World Cup in Russia lost to Argentina 3-0 in the other semifinal match, but their players have spoken of the importance of winning another medal.

Forward Andrej Kramaric described it as the chance to “become an immortal hero in your country.”

“Eight of us from (the tournament in) Russia understand that feeling of winning a medal at the World Cup and we have a lot of players who haven’t experienced that and would love to do that because it’s something that will stay with you for the rest of their life,” Kramaric said.

Luka Modric, who is likely playing in his last World Cup, had similar thoughts.

“We need to leave everything to win the bronze medal and let our fans celebrate one more time,” he said.

To finish second and third in back-to-back World Cups would further secure the legacy of a golden generation for Croatia.

“Saturday’s match is not a small one for us, but a big final, a fight for third place, for a medal,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. “We have to prepare in every sense. It’s a big thing if we take the bronze medal, that would be great.

“The difference is being third or fourth in the world, we will do everything to do that.”

Morocco and Croatia have already played each other at this year’s World Cup, a 0-0 draw in the group stage.

“We know that Croatia got a lot of stick because they weren’t able to beat Morocco,” Regragui said. “Morocco was one of the underdogs and now we both reached the semifinals.”

Injured Morocco center back Romain Saiss, the team’s captain, will miss the game after lasting only 21 minutes against France. Noussair Mazraoui, also substituted in that match, is a doubt.

“We have really, really pushed our players to the limits, but they still want to go out tomorrow and play again,” Regragui said. “But we are not going to be taking risks tomorrow for some of our players.”

___

James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) drives as Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (11) defends during the f...
Associated Press

Young scores 27 to lead Hawks past Jazz, 115-108

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Trae Young had 27 points and six assists to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 115-108 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night. De’Andre Hunter scored 26 points for the Hawks. Onyeka Okongwu had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Dejounte Murray added 13 points and eight assists. Atlanta […]
21 hours ago
Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) shoots a three point basket as Houston Rockets forward Jae...
Associated Press

VanVleet has 32 as Raptors get 117-111 win over Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) — Fred VanVleet scored 32 points, Gary Trent Jr. added 29 and the Toronto Raptors snapped a two-game skid with a 117-111 win over the Houston Rockets on Friday night. The Raptors took a commanding lead in the third quarter and were up by double-digits for most of the fourth. But five straight […]
21 hours ago
Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons (1) shoots against Washington Wizards guard Monte Morr...
Associated Press

Blazers rally from 20 down to end Wizards’ win streak

WASHINGTON (AP) — Anfernee Simons scored 20 of his 33 points in the third quarter and the Portland Trail Blazers erased a 20-point deficit, snapping Washington’s six-game winning streak Friday night with a 124-116 victory over the Wizards. Simons made six of Portland’s nine 3-pointers in the third, and the Trail Blazers finally caught and […]
21 hours ago
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) is fouled as he drives to the basket against San Antonio...
Associated Press

Embiid’s double-double keys 76ers as Spurs drop 8th straight

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Joel Embiid had 33 points and 10 rebounds and the Philadelphia 76ers beat San Antonio 137-125 on Friday night, sending the scuffling Spurs to their eighth straight loss. Tyrese Maxey had 25 points and James Harden added 16 for Philadelphia, which has the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. “Tonight was […]
21 hours ago
A scrum breaks out between Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic players during the second half ...
Associated Press

Fight between Magic, Timberwolves leads to 5 players ejected

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A fight broke out and punches were thrown during the game between the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. Five players were ejected following the brawl, which started in front of the Orlando bench late in the third quarter. Minnesota guard Austin Rivers and Magic center Mo Bamba were the […]
21 hours ago
Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin (8) stands on the ice during the NHL All Star Skills Showcase, F...
Associated Press

NHL takes skills showcase outside, McDavid shines inside

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Sidney Crosby got dunked into a tank of water, Nick Suzuki holed a golf ball with a hockey stick and the NHL made hockey an outdoor sport for its skills showcase in South Florida. Two new events outside in the sun highlighted the league’s annual skills competition at All-Star Weekend, with […]
21 hours ago
Morocco and Croatia play for 3rd place at World Cup