DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Luka Modric will win one more World Cup campaign to drive Croatia to the title.
The 37-year-old midfielder will lead Croatia into their Group F opener against Morocco on Wednesday, a hurdle they are expected to comfortably clear before facing 2018 runners-up Canada and then second-placed Belgium and Kevin De Bruyne.
Four years ago, Modric worked tirelessly and was awarded the tournament’s best player award.
Only five of the players who started the 2018 final are in this Croatia squad after coach Zlatko Dalic’s rebuild. The consistent Modric is still central to everything Croatia do and is arguably more important to Argentina than Lionel Messi to the team’s chances. And Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal.
The Real Madrid player confirmed that this tournament will be the end of his 16-year international career.
It will be an early game against the Moroccans in Al Hor, north of Doha, where temperatures are expected to push 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) at kick-off. But thanks to the air-conditioning systems used in this year’s World Cup stadiums, that heat shouldn’t be a problem for North Africans.
“The conditions here are better than I expected,” said Croatia forward Andrej Kramaric, who was substituted in the 2018 finals. “And considering the air conditioning in the stadiums, it can get cold even during games.”
The climate in Morocco’s camp has also cooled after a heated row between former head coach Vahid Halilhodic and Chelsea striker Hakim Ziyech. Halilhodic saw Ziyech sacked from the team last year for what he described as “unacceptable” views.
Morocco, desperate for all its overseas talent for the World Cup without its best players, threatened the result. Halilhodic was sacked as Morocco qualified for the World Cup and replaced by Walid Regragui, who immediately recalled Ziek.
Ziyech hit the ground running and scored a stunning goal in Morocco’s final warm-up before the World Cup.
But the change of coach only happened at the end of August, giving Regragui, who had never been an international coach before, just two months to make his mark on a team expected to struggle at the World Cup, especially against Croatia and Belgium.
Regargui, 47, may not have had enough time to find anything different from Morocco, who qualified once at the 1986 World Cup.
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