Croatia and Morocco duelled it out in what turned out to be a gripping third-place game at the World Cup, an appetiser for Sunday’s final.
Luka Modric signed off his World Cup career with the consolation prize of a Qatar 2022 bronze medal as Croatia beat Morocco 2-1 in the third-place match on Saturday.
Real wonder goals from Josko Guardiola and Mislav Orsic meant the runners-up from Russia four years ago ended this campaign on a high after losing to Argentina in the semi-finals.
Guardiol put Croatia ahead in the seventh minute at the Khalifa International Stadium. Although Achraf Dari quickly brought Morocco level, Orsic’s superb finish just before half-time proved to be the match-winner.
Guardiola’s goal was a superb header into the left corner after Lovro Majer’s free-kick into the penalty area was cleverly nodded home by Ivan Perisic.
Morocco were level just 112 seconds later when Dari headed home from close range after Hakim Ziyech’s free-kick from the right wing curled high after a heavy touch by Croatia’s Majer.
Yassine Bounou almost clipped a pass into his own net early on, but the Moroccan goalkeeper was sharp enough to keep out Modric’s low strike. In the 42nd minute, however, he was surpassed by a great finish by Orsic, who fired a shot at the goalkeeper from the left edge of the box, the shot went off the far post.
A deflected Orsic strike from 20 yards rippled the side-netting early in the second half as Croatia looked for a third goal against the side who became Africa’s first World Cup semi-finalists.
Guardiol later wanted a penalty after going down under a challenge from Sofyan Amrabat before Morocco had their big chance, with Youssef En-Nesyri denied from close range by Dominik Livakovic. He had another breather for Morocco as well, but sent his header just over the bar. They were left to settle for fourth place, which is still a huge achievement.
Croatia player ratings (3-5-2)
GK: Dominik Livakovic – 7/10 – Made a couple of good stops to cap off a fantastic tournament.
CB: Josip Stanisic – 7/10 – A very assured display from the defender, who has had an excellent World Cup.
CB: Josip Sutalo – 6/10 – A solid if unspectacular performance.
CB: Josko Gvardiol – 8/10 – What a thumping header Gvardiol scored to put Croatia in front. He’s well and truly announced himself in Qatar and was imperious once again today.
RWB: Lovro Majer – 6/10 – Didn’t really feature all that Much in Croatia’s attacks and was rightfully substituted.
CM: Mateo Kovacic – 7/10 – Another vintage display from Kovacic, who has quietly been every bit as effective as his partner in crime Modric at this World Cup. Really should have scored that late chance, though…
CM: Luka Modric – 7/10 – This could well be the last time we see Modric in a Croatia shirt, and the 37-year-old did not disappoint as he looked wonderfully composed throughout.
LWB: Ivan Perisic – 8/10 – Perisic has had an excellent World Cup and finished in style here, assisting Gvardiol’s goal with a deftly flicked header. Another Croatian player who might not see another World Cup, the Tottenham Hotspur winger reminded his country what they’ll be missing when he goes.
AM: Andrej Kramaric – 7/10 – Put in an industrious shift and it was sad to see his afternoon ended early with an injury.
ST: Mislav Orsic – 7/10 – Fans of Spurs and Chelsea still have nightmares about Orsic from his Champions League displays for Dinamo Zagreb, and he lived up to his reputation here with a gorgeous curled finish.
ST: Marko Livaja – 6/10 – Got an assist, but was also at fault for the breakdown of numerous Croatia attacks.
SUB: Nikola Vlasic (61′ for Kramaric – 6/10
SUB: Mario Pasalic (66′ for Livaja) – 5/10
SUB: Bruno Petkovic (66′ for Majer) – 6/10
SUB: Kristijan Jakic (95′ for Orsic) – N/A
Zlatko Dalic – 7/10 – Croatia weren’t themselves against Argentina, but Dalic had his side purring again today. Deserves extra points if he had any involvement in devising that free-kick routine, too.
Morocco player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Yassine Bounou – 5/10 – He’s been arguably the best goalkeeper at this World Cup, but Bounou looked far from assured between the sticks today.
RB: Achraf Hakimi 6/10 – Defended well and drove his side forward continuously, but lacked the end product that could have turned things around for his side.
CB: Jawad El Yamiq – 6/10 – Had a fine game but was forced off through injury.
CB: Achraf Dari – 7/10 – Scored a well-taken goal and defended well, though sadly had to depart early with an injury.
LB: Yahia Attiyat Allah – 5/10 – Never really got going.
DM: Sofyan Amrabat – 6/10 – Not the finest hour for Amrabat, who has been one of the stars of this World Cup – although, in his defence, he did have to slot into the back line for the final half an hour due to injuries to his teammates.
CM: Abdelhamid Sabiri – 5/10 – Morocco’s low-block tactics didn’t help to control the game as it has throughout this tournament, and the game largely passed Sabiri by before he was hooked at half-time.
CM: Bilal El Khannous – 6/10 – Like Sabiri, struggled to make a meaningful impact against a steadfast and experienced Croatian midfield.
RW: Hakim Ziyech – 7/10 – A bright spark in the Moroccan attack, most of their best play went through Ziyech.
LW: Sofiane Boufal – 6/10 – The former Southampton man has earned plaudits with his displays in Qatar, but today was more familiar to what Saints fans might remember from his time on the south coast.
ST: Youssef En-Nesyri – 5/10 – Peripheral to much of the game’s action – although to be fair, he hardly had a whiff of service from his teammates.
SUB: Ilias Chair (46′ for Sabiri) – 5/10
SUB: Azzedine Ounahi (56′ for Khannous) – 6/10
SUB: Anass Zaroury (64′ for Boufal) – 6/10
SUB: Badr Banoune (64′ for Dari) – 5/10
SUB: Selim Amallah (68′ for El Yamiq) – 5/10
Walid Regragui – 6/10 – Regragui only took charge of Morocco in August and has overachieved massively with the side at the World Cup, creating a well-organised and incredibly effective team. If we’re being critical, however, one could blame the manager for his reluctance to rotate arguably causing the swathe of injuries which nullified his side’s performances against France and Croatia.