Half Mag / Half Zine

Croatia beat Morocco 2-1 in the World Cup third-place playoff to leave Qatar on a high after again surpassing expectations following their run to the final in 2018. Mislav Orsic’s strike just before half-time was enough to settle the contest after two goals inside the first nine minutes set the tone for a pulsating encounter, Morocco’s Achraf Dari cancelling out Josko Gvardiol’s opener.

A bronze medal may have served as nothing more than consolation but Croatia and Morocco looked eager to make amends after losing to Argentina and France respectively in the semis.

“This is bronze with a golden glow. We won a tough game,” said Croatia’s coach, Zlatko Dalic, who also led the nation of just 4 million people to their runners-up finish in Russia four years ago. “This is a medal for the Croatian people … It’s really great that we won two medals in two tournaments, big congratulations to my players.”

Foremost among those, perhaps, was the 37-year-old Luka Modric, surely playing his final World Cup game. The Real Madrid midfielder indicated afterwards that he would not hang up his international boots just yet, playing on at least until next summer’s Nations League finals in the Netherlands.

There were signs of nerves from Morocco early on with the goalkeeper Bono nearly scything a clearance into his own goal in the third minute.

Croatia started the game on the front foot and took the lead in the seventh minute through a cleverly worked set piece. A cross floated into the box found Ivan Perisic who expertly nodded the ball into the mix where the masked Gvardiol bravely dived in to head past Bono and silence the Moroccan contingent, albeit briefly.

Achraf Dari
Two minutes later, Morocco responded with a set piece of their own when a cross came off Lovro Majer’s head and looped into the box where an unmarked Dari headed in.

Emboldened by the equaliser, Morocco began to find chinks in the Croatia defence, with their movement and passing helping to create several chances. But the African side, who made history as the first on their continent to reach a World Cup semi-final, lacked the killer instinct in front of goal.

Croatia duly punished them in the 42nd minute when an interception in the final third found Orsic, whose curling shot arced beautifully from a tight angle past the outstretched arm of Bono before going in off a post.

The second half was not as fast or feisty as the first as exhaustion after a long tournament seemed to have caught up with both teams, playing their seventh game in Qatar. Croatia’s Andrej Kramaric even left the pitch in tears with what looked like a thigh injury while Dari also hobbled off having opted to continue after the restart despite struggling at the end of the first half.

By the 67th minute, Morocco had made all five of their substitutions.

“Physically it was difficult, our players got tired, it was intense,” Morocco’s coach, Walid Regragui, said.

Croatia felt hard done by when Gvardiol looked to have been tripped in the box by Sofyan Amrabat but the referee refused to award a penalty. Mateo Kovacic could have put the game to bed for Croatia in the 87th minute when through on goal but shot wide while Youssef En-Nesyri headed over in stoppage time.

But despite Morocco’s best efforts to find an equaliser, Croatia held on for victory, matching the feat of their heroes from 1998.

“We wanted to please our fans. We’re still happy, we’re among the four best teams in the world,” Regragui said. “We provided everyone with a good show, we never gave up. Congratulations to Croatia, they deserve their third place.”