DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Luka Modric gets another World Cup Campaign to take Croatia all the way to the title.
The 37-year-old midfielder will lead Croatia in Wednesday’s Group F opener against Morocco, a hurdle the 2018 runners-up are expected to comfortably clear ahead of Canada and then a showdown with Belgium No. 2 Kevin de Bruyne .
Four years ago, Modric worked tirelessly and was rewarded with the Player of the Tournament award when Croatia made it to the final, where they lost 4-2 to France.
Only five of the players who started in the 2018 final are in this Croatian squad after coach Zlatko Dalic’s remake. The constant is Modric, who is still at the center of all Croatia’s activities and is arguably more important to his team’s chances than Lionel Messi was to Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal.
The Real Madrid player has confirmed that this tournament will mark the end of a 16-year international career.
It will be an early game against the Moroccans in Al Khor, north of Doha, where the temperature is forecast to hit 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) by kick-off. That heat shouldn’t be a problem against the North Africans, however, thanks to the cooling systems deployed in this year’s World Cup stadiums.
“The conditions here were better than I expected,” said Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric, who came on as a substitute in the 2018 final. “And considering the air conditioning in the stadiums, it can even get cold during games.”
The climate in the Moroccan camp has also cooled significantly following a heated feud between former head coach Vahid Halilhodzic and Chelsea striker Hakim Ziyech. Ziyech was banned from the squad last year after Halilhodzic branded his ‘unacceptable’ attitude.
There was a risk that Morocco, who desperately need all of their foreign talent, would be left without one of their best players for the World Cup. Halilhodzic was sacked despite Morocco qualifying for the World Cup and replaced by Walid Regragui, who immediately recalled Ziyech.
Ziyech got going straight away, scoring an amazing goal from within his own half in Morocco’s last warm-up before the World Cup.
However, the change of coach didn’t come until the end of August, leaving Regragui, who had never worked as national team coach before, with just two full months to oversee a side already expected to struggle at the World Cup, particularly against Croatia , to put a bigger stamp and Belgium.
That may not be enough time for 47-year-old Regragui to pull something special out of Morocco, who only made it through the group stage once at a World Cup in 1986.
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