Croatia 2-1 Morocco: Orsic strike secures World Cup bronze
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.
Goals of real wonder from Josko Gvardiol and Mislav Orsic meant the runners-up from four years ago in Russia finished this campaign on a high, following the blow of losing to Argentina in the semi-finals.
Croatia are hopeful captain Modric, at the age of 37, will decide to play on and take part in their Euro 2024 campaign, but this was a World Cup farewell for the Real Madrid midfielder.
Gvardiol gave Croatia a seventh-minute lead at Khalifa International Stadium. Although Achraf Dari swiftly brought Morocco level, Orsic's brilliant finish just before half-time proved to be the match winner.
Gvardiol's goal was a super header into the left corner after Lovro Majer's free-kick into the penalty area was skilfully nodded towards the penalty spot by Ivan Perisic.
Morocco were level just 112 seconds minutes later, though, with Dari applying a close-range finish with his head after Hakim Ziyech's free-kick from the right flank was sent looping up by a heavy touch off Croatia's Majer.
Yassine Bounou had almost sliced a pass into his own net early on, but the Morocco goalkeeper was sharp enough to keep out a low strike from Modric. However, he was beaten in the 42nd minute by an exquisite finish from Orsic, who arced the ball over the goalkeeper from just inside the left edge of the penalty area, the shot going in off the far post.
A deflected Orsic strike from 20 yards rippled the side-netting early in the second half as Croatia searched for a third goal against the team that became Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists.
Gvardiol 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 last-gasp opening too for Morocco, but sent a header just over the bar. They were left to settle for fourth, still a huge achievement.
What does it mean? Same old story, but also the end of an era
Croatia maintained Europe's dominance of this fixture, with European teams having now won 11 consecutive third-place games at the World Cup, Brazil's 2-1 win over Italy in 1978 being the last time a team from another continent took the honours.
This was Modric's 19th and last World Cup game of his stellar career. In Qatar, he became the first outfield player aged 37 or over to play in more than six games in a single World Cup.
While Modric has confirmed this will be his last rodeo on this stage, the same likely applies for Perisic, who turns 34 in February. Here, both men completed three consecutive World Cups (2014, 2018, 2022) of starting every game (all 17) for Croatia. Only Lionel Messi (also 17) has started as many games at the World Cup in this timeframe.
Gvardiol puts Messi nightmare behind him
Gvardiol, given a torrid time by Messi in the semi-finals, made sure he finished his campaign on a high. His goal made him the youngest scorer for Croatia at the World Cup at the age of 20 years and 328 days.
Perisic's assist gave him 11 goal involvements since the start of the 2014 World Cup, with only Messi (16) having been involved in more at the World Cup in that period.
Hakimi keeps roaring for Atlas Lions
Achraf Hakimi, much like Modric, was not the player to put in a show-stealing performance this time around, but the Paris Saint-Germain right-back contributed another mighty shift for Morocco.
He made a team-high four tackles to take his tournament total to 27 - the most by a player in a single World Cup since Javier Mascherano made 30 for Argentina at the tournament in 2014.
Key Opta Stats:
- Croatia have only lost two of their 14 total matches across the last two World Cup tournaments (W6 D6): versus France in the 2018 final (2-4) and Argentina in this year's semi-final (0-3).
- Morocco's two defeats at the 2022 World Cup came in the matches where they had their two highest possession figures of the tournament (61 per cent v France and 49 per cent v Croatia).
- Prior to these two matches, Morocco had averaged just 31 per cent possession and gone unbeaten in five games (W3 D2).
- Croatia drew 0-0 with Morocco on MD1, before beating them in this match – it was just the third instance this century of a team facing an opponent twice in the same World Cup tournament without losing either match, after Brazil in 2002 (v Turkey) and Belgium in 2018 (v England).
- This was the first match of the 2022 World Cup to see both teams score inside the first 10 minutes of play.
European Championship qualifiers get under way in March, with Croatia facing Wales and Turkey in their opening games. Morocco's next priority will be to earn a place at the Africa Cup of Nations, with their next qualifier scheduled for June, when they face South Africa.