DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Luka Modric will get one more World Cup A campaign to lead Croatia to the title.
The 37-year-old midfielder will lead Croatia into their Group F opener against Morocco on Wednesday, a hurdle they hope to comfortably clear before facing 2018 runners-up Canada, followed by No. 2-placed Belgium. Kevin De Bruyne.
Four years ago, Modric worked tirelessly and won the tournament’s best player award as Croatia reached the final, where they lost 4-2 to France.
Only five of the players who started the 2018 finals are in this Croatia squad after coach Zlatko Dalic’s rebuild. Modric is still central to everything Croatia do and is more important to the team’s chances than Lionel Messi for Argentina. And Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal.
The Real Madrid star has confirmed that this tournament will be the end of his 16-year international career.
It will be the first match against the Moroccans at Al Khor, north of Doha, where temperatures are forecast to reach 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) at kickoff. Thanks to the cooling systems used in this year’s World Cup stadiums, however, that heat shouldn’t be a problem against the North Africans.
“The conditions here are better than I expected,” said Croatia forward Andrej Kramaric, a substitute in the 2018 final. “Given the air conditioning in the stadiums, it (sometimes) gets cold during the games.”
The climate in the Moroccan camp has also cooled considerably after a bitter battle between former coach Vahid Halilodzik and Chelsea forward Hakim Ziyech. It saw Ciech dropped from the squad last year after Halilhodzic branded his “unacceptable” attitude.
It threatened to be without one of its best players for the World Cup, with Morocco needing all their foreign-based talent. Despite Morocco qualifying for the World Cup, Halilhodzic was sacked and replaced by Walid Regragui, who immediately recalled Siech.
Ziech hit the ground running in Morocco’s final warm-up before the World Cup and scored a stunning goal from his own half.
The coaching switch came at the end of August, giving Regargui, not yet an international coach, just two months to make his big mark on a team that was already expected to struggle at the World Cup, especially against Croatia. and Belgium.
It may not be enough time for the 47-year-old Regargui to get anything special out of Morocco, who made it past the group stage just once in the 1986 World Cup.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup, https://twitter.com/AP_Sports