Croatia beat Morocco to finish third in Qatar World Cup

Croatia comfortably triumphed over Morocco with a 2-1 victory, securing third place in the 2022 World Cup held in Qatar.

Joško Gvardiol scored a remarkable goal in the seventh minute, earning him the title of the youngest goal scorer for Croatia in the national team at the age of 20.

It could be a high-scoring match on Saturday, with Dari Achraf scoring a header to equalize two minutes later.

Both teams attempted to end their journey in the World Cup on a high note, but the match-up turned into a less frenetic yet entertaining contest after a frantic opening 10 minutes at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium.

Croatia, the squad that secured the runner-up spot in 2018, started to establish dominance over the ball, while Morocco was satisfied with defending deeply and limiting their adversary’s chances.

Croatia goal
Gvardiol’s header found the back of Morocco’s net [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Mislav Orsic’s winner

In the 42nd minute, Mislav Orsic of Croatia scored the winning goal by curling a lobbed ball over Morocco’s goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, into the far post, rebounding off the inside of the opposite side netting.

A European squad secured third place consecutively, signifying that Qatar 2022 marked the 11th occurrence of the World Cup where an exceptional goal was scored.

“After the match,” Orsic stated, “we will comprehend the magnitude of this triumph. Even after a few days, we are still unable to gauge the significance of what transpired today. It was an exceptional game.”

I really wanted to dedicate it to all my Croatian fans and my family, as it was the most crucial game of my career.

Regragui disappointed

Walid Regragui, the coach of Morocco, conveyed a sense of being “somewhat disappointed” by the consecutive defeats of the team, while recognizing that “they exerted maximum effort”.

He stated, “we are very exhausted from our players. We’re going to learn a lot from this World Cup and we know that we need an even stronger comeback.”

Perisic assist

The game, which took place three weeks ago in the group stage, ended in a goalless draw, leaving both teams with nothing to lose. The performance was spirited, resembling an encounter where both sides were nervous and little separated them.

Gvardiol, who planted himself into the corner of the header, dived towards the back box and clipped Majer’s ball into the net as Lovro nodded it. Then, Ivan Perisic surged in from the front after a well-rehearsed free kick and dangerously close to passing the ball into his own net, Bounou came in the opening period of the action-packed game within the first few seconds.

In the Croatian goal, Dari Livakovic allowed Majer to head the ball past him, but Hakim Ziyech’s free kick looped up and hit the back of the net.

Morocco players celebrate Dari’s equaliser [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Bilal El Khannouss makes his debut

When Marko Livaja approached, Andrej Kramaric proceeded to direct a header directly at Bounou, who did a commendable job of swiftly securing the ball.

El Bilal Khannouss, an 18-year-old debutant from Morocco, lost the ball deep in his own half before brilliantly curling it into the top corner of the box from the post to put Croatia back on top.

Orsic came close once more right after the game resumed, as his attempt towards the net got redirected by Jawad El Yamiq and narrowly avoided the post with a sizzling movement.

Croatia vs Morocco
Both teams fought hard to win the match and claim the tournament’s third place [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Croatia became extremely angry when Gvardiol fell inside the penalty area after it seemed like his foot got caught by Sofyan Amrabat, even though there was no VAR review.

Livakovic made a superb block from close range, and moments later, he managed to get past Youssef En Nesyri, which might have been a pivotal moment in the match.

The Lions of Atlas couldn’t find a way to end their historic run with a victory, but in the dying seconds, Nesyri En turned the game around with a late penalty appeal, and Morocco had a chance to put the game beyond doubt. Mateo Kovacic went wide with the chance.

The focus now turns entirely to the ultimate match on Sunday at Lusail Stadium, where the current titleholders France will go head to head with Argentina at 13:00 GMT.