FIFA World Cup

Orsic Break Moroccan Hearts as Croatia Clinch Bronze

A goal from Mislav Orsic late into the first half was the decisive goal as Croatia saw off Morocco 2-1 on Saturday night to finish third in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

2018 runners-up Croatia took on surprise packages Morocco, who were the first African and Middle Eastern team to qualify into the World Cup final four, in Saturday’s third place play-off at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

The match was a high-octane encounter from the get-go, with RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol’s diving header giving Croatia the early lead after just five minutes, only for Moroccan defender Achraf Dari to equalize only seconds afterwards.

Former Ulsan Hyundai striker Orsic then clinched the game for Croatia in the 42nd minute, with Morocco being unable to find an equalizer throughout the remainder of the match.

Inspired by their 37-year old playmaker Luka Modric – in what could be his final World Cup match – Croatia went flying off the blocks since kick-off. Ivan Perisic – another veteran in the Croatia squad – managed to tee up Gvardiol with a well-taken free-kick in the fifth minute, which the Leipzig player managed to head home past Bono in the Morocco goal.

The Atlas Lions’ response to going behind was swift and ruthless. Brest defender Dari took advantage of a looping ball coming towards him to land in a shot that went beyond the reaches of Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

Morocco head coach Walid Regragui gave 18-year old Bilal El Khannous his debut and the youngster did decently, however he was at fault for Croatia’s winning goal in the 42nd minute. El Khannous gave the ball away to Hajduk Split’s Marko Livaja, who easily passed it to Dinamo Zagreb’s Orsic for a curling finish that left Bono utterly beaten again.

Sevilla’s Youssef En-Nesyri managed to carve Morocco’s best chances for an equalizer, forcing Livakovic to a save before seeing his injury-time header striking the roof of the net.

After the match, Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic had this to say, “We won the bronze medal and it has a golden layer, it is like we have won the gold medal tonight. Fighting for the third place play-off and losing would have been a disaster. This is the end of a cycle, end of a journey. My players spared no efforts and these are what we work for.”

Dalic also said this regarding his veterans such as Modric and Perisic as well as young talents such as Gvardiol and Lovro Majer, “This is the last World Cup for some of my players due to their age. But we have young players in our team and there is a great hope for Croatia. We have many young players on the bench. The older players instill confidence in them. Croatia has nothing to fear for the future. Is this the end of an era? I believe not, we have the Nations League and European Championship in 2024. I believe Croatia has a fascinating future.”

Dalic’s Moroccan counterpart Walid had nothing but praise for his brave players, who exceeded the expectation of many in this World Cup, saying “The doubts were in the minds of everyone before this tournament but we have gone further than expected and it is not enough. That needs to set the example for the future. Something that has touched me is when I see the pictures of children because football makes people dream. We have allowed children to dream, we have kept those dreams alive.”

Walid continued, “Children in Morocco and around the world dream of winning the World Cup and that means more to me than winning any game at the World Cup. We have made a fantastic achievement but we want to do that again. If we can keep reaching the semi-final or quarter final regularly, one day we will win the World Cup.”