Croatia claimed third place by beating Morocco 2-1 on Saturday through first-half goals by Josko Gvardiol and Mislav Orsic.
- Runners-up in 2018, Croatia finished third for the second time in their history
- All the goals came in the first half with Gvardiol and Orsic netting for Croatia
- Morocco made history as the first African side to finish in the final four
Croatia 2-1 Morocco
Goals: Croatia – Josko Gvardiol (7), Mislav Orsic (42) ; Morocco – Achraf Dari (9)
Croatia secured themselves a set of bronze medals by defeating Morocco 2-1 in the third-place play-off at Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday.
Zlatko Dalic’s men picked themselves up after their 3-0 semi-final loss to Argentina to secure third place for the second time at a FIFA World Cup™, having also claimed the final place on the podium at France ’98. When these teams met in their opening group game 24 days ago, few would have predicted them meeting again on the tournament’s concluding weekend. Where that group encounter finished goalless, no third-place play-off has ended that way and their reunion exploded into life with two early goals, both from set plays.
The first was a terrifically worked free-kick with Ivan Perisic nodding the ball across the penalty box, where Josko Gvardiol flung himself forward to power a header past Yassine Bounou, the Morocco goalkeeper. For Perisic it was his fifth World Cup assist.
Morocco equalised almost immediately following a wide free-kick by Hakim Ziyech, captaining the team on his 50th appearance. The ball looped off the head of Luka Modric on the edge of the area and fell inside the six-yard box, where Achraf Dari stooped to nod in his first international goal.
Morocco have delighted both the African and Arab worlds with their unprecedented run to the last four after and though Modric tested Bounou with a low drive, Walid Regragui’s men were arguably on top as the first period approached an end. However, it was Croatia who reclaimed the lead just before the break.
Teenager Bilal El Khannouss, making his Morocco debut, won the ball on the edge of his box only to then lose it to Mateo Kovacic. Croatia worked the ball swiftly to Mislav Orsic on the left side of the box and he curled a lovely first-time effort over Bounou and in off the far post.
Croatia looked to be the more likely scorers for much of the second half, with Kovacic coming closest for the Balkan team in the 87th minute as he dragged a shot wide of the far post.
Morocco only seriously threatened an equaliser deep into stoppage time with a header from Youssef En-Nesyri which landed on the roof of the net. For Croatia, it was job done.
Gvardiol went into the semi-final having been widely billed as one of the best centre-backs on view at Qatar 2022. His contribution had included a vital goal-saving tackle on Romelu Lukaku to ensure Croatia got out of their group at Belgium’s expense.
Yet the 20-year-old Leipzig defender went back to Croatia’s base on Tuesday night having become the umpteenth victim of Lionel Messi’s brilliance, bamboozled by the little magician, who turned him inside out in setting up Argentina’s third goal.
Gvardiol bounced back here by scoring his first World Cup following a free-kick routine straight off the training round. Majer clipped a free-kick towards Perisic, running away from goal, and the winger flexed his neck muscles superbly to direct the ball back towards the penalty spot, where Gvardiol struck with a diving header.
With his goal, moreover, he became his country’s youngest World Cup scorer, aged 20 years and 328 days. He may have been wearing a protective mask in Qatar but he will now head for home with a face and a name that are much more widely known.
A European nation has now finished third at each of the last 11 World Cups. The last non-European team to rank third was Brazil in 1978.
Morocco are the first non-European or South American nation to finish in the top four since Korea Republic in 2002.
Seven months after his senior debut for Genk, 18-year-old Bilal El Khannouss made his international debut at Khalifa International Stadium to become the youngest Morocco player to grace the world stage.
With his assist for Gvardiol, Perisic has now been directly involved in 11 goals (six goals, five assists) across the last three World Cups. Only Messi (16) has had a hand in more goals across those tournaments.
This was the 10th World Cup match running where Croatia have failed to keep a clean sheet.
Zlatko Dalic, Croatia coach “I’m proud of my team and of my country. For us bronze is a gold medal. We played a very tough tournament. Also I want to congratulate Morocco – they played well, they did a fantastic job. Really I am very proud, very happy. Maybe it wasn’t expected that Croatia would do something big again but we are a small country with big dreams and congratulations to everyone. “[On Modric] He is our captain, he is our big voice and he played fantastically this tournament also. He is 37 years old but he played like a 25-year-old maximum. He is our leader and everybody follows him. [On Modric carrying on to UEFA EURO 2024] I hope so.”
Luka Modric, Croatia captain “About my future I don’t know if I will be until the EURO in Germany. We will see. I need to go step by step. I am enjoying the national team, I feel happy. I still feel I can perform on a high level and I want to continue at least until the Nations League. And then, after, there will be more time to think about the EURO but now it’s go step by step and continue at least until the Nations League and after we will see.”
Walid Regragui, Morocco coach “Tomorrow morning we will take stock, and realise we all produced a fantastic achievement here. We played Croatia twice, one of the top three teams in the world. We played against Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium and Canada. That’s wonderful. “We have an objective of winning the World Cup one day. Morocco showed we can go toe to toe with these teams. We are now one of the top four teams in the world.”
Player of the Match
- Josko Gvardiol