Croatia defeated Morocco 2-1 in the Third-Place match at Qatar’s 2022 World Cup securing the small Balkan state’s third top-three finish at the tournament and its second in a row. Luka Modric, as usual, was instrumental in controlling the match’s flow and in keeping Morocco mostly at bay throughout the match.
Josko Gvardiol’s diving header off a practiced set play saw Ivan Perisic head a cross into the middle of the Moroccan penalty area where the young Croatian defender met the service with a thunderous contact for the opening score in the 7th minute.
Two minutes later an errant Croatian defensive clearance saw the ball balloon backward toward their own goal and Achraf Dari was the first to react and head the ball in from close range for the tying score in the 9th minute.
The winning score would also come in the first half when a broken play saw Mislaw Orsic receive a pass on the left side of the Moroccan box and the open winger converted a perfect high curler which Yassine Bounou grazed on the way in.
The rest of the match was an exercise in lead management by the best team in the tournament at that task and Croatia saw out the last minutes of the first half and all of the second conceding but a couple of dangerous plays while creating a handful themselves, but mostly controlling the rhythm and pace of the game.
For the Moroccans, the first African, Muslim, and Arabic team to make the semifinals, this has been a historic run with the extra feather on their cap of being the geographic region’s one truly successful representative at their first cup held in their back yard. Similarly, Achraf Hakimi, Sofyan Amrabat, and Hakim Zyech saw their stock as players take a nice upward slant while their coach, Walid Regragui, should have future offers aplenty for his services.
For the Croatians, many of whom are nearing retirement age, this was a particularly satisfying conclusion to their run as they were never given a chance against the tourney’s favorites and yet they held off Belgium and defeated Brazil on their way to an unfortunate encounter with Argentina. The Croats’ midfield trio of Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic, showed they are among the planet’s best, and standout keeper Dominick Livakovic and standout defender Gvardiol should be looking to cash in on their super tournament performances.
For Luka Modric and Zlatko Dalic, this was a revindication of their long-earned global stature, of reiterating and underlining the quality and validity of their stellar roles and accomplishments over two successive cups, and in particular in the face of nearly universal dismissal of their chances by the entire footballing world—opponents and media pundits alike.
Photo: Luka Modric, Dreamstime.com ID 120018456, by Vladyslav Moskovenko.