Regragui says Morocco will try their best in 'worst game' - World Cup third place play-off

North African team take on Croatia at Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday

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Morocco manager Walid Regragui described Saturday’s third place play-off as the “worst game to play”, but says his players “have the appetite” to end their World Cup on a high.

The North Africans, who this week became the first from their continent to reach the last four of a global finals, take on Croatia at Khalifa International Stadium.

Morocco were beaten 2-0 in Wednesday’s semi-final by reigning champions France – their first defeat in six matches at Qatar 2022. Croatia, meanwhile, lost their last-four clash, on Tuesday, to Argentina.

"I guess it the worst game that we have to play," Regragui told reporters on Friday. "But we're still excited to play it despite the disappointment. We obviously would have liked to be in the actual final, but there is third place we play for. We want to finish on the podium.

"It is going to be quite difficult with fatigue, but there are also mental hurdles that we need to overcome. We know that Croatia will also want to finish third. We played them in our first game so it will be a nice finisher. It will be no walk in the park."

Morocco, who qualified for the knockouts for the first time in 36 years, have been one of the stories of the World Cup. They finished top of a group containing Croatia and Belgium, defeating the latter, while they knocked out Spain on penalties before beating Portugal in the quarter-final.

On Wednesday, although they lost, Morocco outplayed France for large spells. Still, Regragui said the team would need to come to terms with the result, and relinquishing the opportunity to go on to win the World Cup.

"We need to clear our heads a little bit,” he said. "When you play a semi-final, and it was our first at a World Cup, the emotions are running high. It was quite difficult coming out of that game.

"However, my players still have the appetite. They want to finish well, and they know they've still got one game with everything to play for. They have understood what is at stake.

"Obviously finishing third is not the same as the finishing fourth, and it would be great to take a medal home with us. We want to ensure that we finish well, and my players have digested the defeat by France.

"They've got their heads around the fact they are part of the best teams in the world. We need to clear our heads and go into this game with our heads held high."

Morocco opened their World Cup campaign on November 23 with a goalless draw with Croatia. The 2018 runners-up, who finished second in Group F, were beaten 3-0 in their semi-final with Argentina. Argentina and France contest the showpiece on Sunday.

"We knew that Croatia were going to be one of the best teams in the competition,” Regragui said. "After the first game we noted that our performance was very good and we had a lot of people saying that Croatia were coming to the end of a cycle and we could sweep the rug from under their feet.

"We know that Croatia got a lot of stick because they weren't able to beat Morocco, who were meant to be the underdog. Now we've both reached the semi-finals.

"I believe tomorrow will be very different to the first game. There was a lot of respect and preparation and hesitation during the first game. But going into tomorrow, both sides have had a lot more game time.

"I hope that we're going to be able to put on a good show for the end of the tournament. There will be good tactics, and both teams will be in it to win it. I think it will be a more open game from both sides.

"It is important we play our football - Moroccan football with a positive attitude and you give everything. After this game I hope we have no regrets. That is important for our team."

Regragui, 47, has impressed throughout his brief tenure with his national team. Appointed only in August, the former international has suffered a solitary defeat in nine matches – albeit his greatest test, against France, the country of his birth.

Regragui, who confirmed captain Romain Saiss is unavailable for Croatia because of injury, did concede Saturday’s match felt like a consolation prize after going so close to reaching the final.

Yet he said he understands the benefit of finishing third, and that there should be no problem rallying his battle-weary troops for one final push.

"I don't really need to motivate my team; we are at a World Cup and we are representing Morocco,” Regragui said. “Every game is important, even friendlies, for our supporters. We want to win those too.

"The objective tomorrow is to get that third place because we want to push as far as we can go. We want to up our Fifa ranking. If we finish third in the world we'll be able to boost our Fifa ranking.

"We know the next African team that come against Morocco will know that we can give them a run for their money. Not only because we got to the semi-finals, but we also managed to get our hands on that third place.

"We want to show what we're made of and also pave a way for a better future for Moroccan football. It will be extraordinary if we finish third in a World Cup."

Updated: December 16, 2022, 9:55 AM