Al Rayyan: Morocco may not have reached the World Cup final but the players and supporters can take pride in the fact that they will leave Qatar having played seven games, a first for any Arab or African nation, coach Walid Regragui said on Friday.
Morocco’s dream run at the World Cup ended when they were beaten by reigning champions France in the semi-finals but they still have the opportunity to leave Qatar on a high when they take on Croatia in the third-place playoff on Saturday.
Regragui said he would not make too many changes to the squad as that would upset the team balance but admitted it was a difficult and complicated game for two teams being asked to play after the disappointment of losing their semi-final matches.
“I understand it’s important to finish third rather than fourth, but my takeaway is we didn’t reach the final… We wanted to play the final on Sunday, not play tomorrow,” Regragui said.
“But I told my players this is our seventh World Cup game. If you told any Morocco fan we would be playing our seventh game on December 17, they would be proud.
“Morocco played six World Cup games in 20-odd years and now we’ve played six games in a month — this is priceless. It’s as if we played two World Cups or even more, that’s beautiful from an experience point of view.”
Regragui said Croatia were a formidable team even if they had not been favoured to repeat their 2018 run, when they finished runners-up in Russia. Their dreams were crushed by Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the semi-final.
“We knew Croatia were going to be one of the best teams in the competition. After the first game (where Morocco and Croatia drew 0-0 in the group stage) we knew the performance was very good,” Regragui said.
“A lot of people said Croatia were approaching the end of their cycle and would have the rug swept out from under their feet. Croatia got stick for not beating ‘underdogs’ Morocco but both teams reached the semi-final.
“There was a lot of hesitation for the first game… Both teams will want to win it (on Saturday) and it will be a great game.”
The game could be Croatian midfielder Luka Modric’s last with the national team and Regragui praised the Real Madrid man who is still going strong at 37.
“I don’t know if it’s Modric’s last game, he’s a competitive warrior and will want to finish his World Cup in style. When he wants to finish on a great note, we should be wary,” Regragui said.
“Hats off to Modric. What he’s doing at 37 is monumental. He was a Ballon d’Or winner and I completely understand why.”