"Maybe these boys I stumbled upon long ago in a Marrakech back street were dreaming that one day Morocco might be in the Final Four of a World Cup. Or that maybe one day they might even get to play in a World Cup semi-final, maybe even the Final. This week that dream is coming true. Go Morocco!" ---Text and Photo: ©John McDermott (John has covered seven World Cups. GV)
Nobody could have imagined Morocco in the World Cup semifinals, the first African team to ever reach these heights. The Moroccans have been the highlight, with their skilled young players and their energetic young coach, just hired early this year, and their joyous fans. Morocco plays France on Wednesday in Qatar, after Croatia plays Argentina on Tuesday, both matches at 2 PM, Eastern USA time.
And speaking of Croatia, my favorite player of this World Cup is Luka Modrić , who runs the team.
Modrić reminds me of the great backcourt players of earlier basketball generations -- Cousy and McGuire, Wilkens and Nash, alert, unselfish.
With his darting eyes and sharp beak, Modrić also reminds me of a hilltop perch in upstate New York, where I sometimes watch hawks circling, catching a draft, looking for...something.
He swoops into an opening, goes as far as he can, dishes the ball off to a teammate who can handle his soft, accurate pass. Sometimes Modrić dips a shoulder or points his fingers to direct a teammate or two, but never to show off, only to improve position.
He is 37, veteran of brutal schedules of European club and national schedules, but he continues to catch the currents, seeking the best chance.
On Tuesday, in the first semifinal, Croatia plays Argentina, which has Messi, a totally different type.
Modrić vs. Messi.
And on Wednesday, surprising Morocco against the champion, France, with Kilyan Mbappe against the darling upstarts of this World Cup, which has perhaps saved the best for last.