Croatia ousted surprise package Morocco 2-1 in an enthralling 2022 World Cup third-place play-off tie to win the bronze medal today.
Unlike their first meeting in Qatar, when the spoils were shared in a tepid 0-0 draw in a curtain-raising Group F outing, they put on a show at the Khalifa International Stadium.
The beaten finalists from 2018 took the initiative early on and it paid off almost instantaneously as centre-backs stole the show in the opening stages.
In-demand RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol headed home a cheeky lay-off from Ivan Perisic from point-blank to put the Blazers in front only seven minutes into the game.
However, Croatia’s celebrations were short-lived, with stand-in centre-half Achraf Dari producing a sweet header from a six-yard box into the bottom right corner to pull Morocco back only two minutes later.
After putting things back to square one, Walid Regragui’s men immediately withdrew all the bodies into their half, surrendering possession to the Croats, who struggled to create anything meaningful.
The Moroccans relied on the counter to hurt Croatia’s high backline and came close to punishing them on the stroke of the half-hour mark.
Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi exchanged a few one-twos to propel the Paris Saint-Germain into a promising position. But the delivery let the right-back down as he put too much pace on his ball to Youssef En-Nesyri.
Ziyech then made several eye-catching dribblings to set himself up for a long-range shot that blazed well off Dominik Livakovic’s near post.
Even though Croatia looked highly unlikely to score before half-time, Dinamo Zagreb winger Mislav Orsic produced a moment of brilliance to restore his team’s lead.
Marko Livaja laid the ball off to the edge of the box to Orsic, who hit it first time off the inside of the right post, leaving one of the best goalkeepers in Qatar helpless.
Reluctant to settle for a narrow lead at half-time, Dalic’s lads came flying out of the traps in the second half as Orsic’s mid-range shot a slight deflection of one of the defenders and passed agonisingly wide.
But as the game progressed, Croatia lost interest in venturing forward in numbers, letting Morocco reclaim possession in a faint attempt to secure extra time.
Despite seeing much of the ball in the second half, Regragui’s team failed to find a way to penetrate the Croats’ defensive wall.
The closest they came to scoring the second goal was deep into the 90th-minute stoppage time as En-Nesyri’s close-ranged header flew just over the crossbar.
Crippled by injuries, Morocco had to settle for a fourth-place finish, but they can be proud of their achievement in Qatar.
Dominik Livakovic (6/10) – Slow off his line to deny Morocco’s equaliser but lifted his performance later on.
Josip Stanisic (6/10) – Too cautious when he should’ve sprinted forward. Still did a fine job at the back.
Josko Gvardiol (9/10) *MOTM* – Another phenomenal day for one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe. Apart from scoring, no one ever threatened Livakovic on his watch.
Josip Sutalo (7/10) – Slotted in for Dejan Lovren and barely put his foot wrong.
Ivan Perisic (7/10) – Caused problems with his runs down the right flank. Much livelier display than his counterpart on the right, Stanisic.
Mislav Orsic (8/10) – This guy has something special in him as he slotted home an absolute screamer to win the match for Croatia.
Mateo Kovacic (7/10) – Safe passing and smart positioning in the middle of the park highlighted another high-quality performance from the Chelsea star.
Luka Modric (7/10) – Never made a wrong decision and was almost impossible to push around when in possession. What a way to say goodbye to the World Cup.
Lovro Majer (6/10) – One of the worst-performing Croatian midfielders today as the Moroccans’ pace and feisty approach robbed him of the ball one too many times.
Marko Livaja (7/10) – Despite not having a single clear sight of goal, he chipped in with a crucial assist for Orsic.
Andrej Kramaric (6/10) – Not one of his best performances for Croatia as he often failed to cope with Dari’s physical presence before being subbed off on the half-hour mark.
Nikola Vlasic (5/10)
Bruno Petkovic (6/10)
Mario Pasalic (6/10)
Kristijan Jakic (NA/10)
Bono (7/10) – Whether he could’ve done better to thwart Orsic’s attempt, it was another assured performance from the star goalkeeper.
Achraf Hakimi (8/10) – Full of energy and running, he once again proved why many consider him the best right-back on the planet.
Achraf Dari (7/10) – In addition to levelling the score early on, provided a rock-solid display at the back. Even Romain Saiss would’ve been proud of this display.
Jawad El Yamiq (7/10) – Another second-choice centre-back that enjoyed a decent game despite forming part of a backline that conceded twice before half-time.
Yahya Attiat-Allah (6/10) – Was caught napping once or twice but still proved too quick to bounce back.
Sofyan Amrabat (7/10) – Won numerous challenges in the engine room, helping Morocco’s clumsy midfield line-up tick over in tumultuous moments.
Abdelhamid Sabiri (5/10) – Failed to make his rare start count, giving away possession cheaply while struggling to recover the ball.
Bilal El Khannous (6/10) – Showed some impressive dribbling skills occasionally but never came close to creating some meaningful attacks for Morocco.
Hakim Ziyech (8/10) – Too bad his sublime individual showing wasn’t felt on the scoreboard but his dazzling feet and quick-thinking passes caught Croatia off guard numerous times.
Sofiane Boufal (6/10) – Could and should have done better on several occasions but hesitated to let go of the ball on time.
Youssef En-Nesyri (6/10) – Spent most of the game in stealth mode but came close to ensuring extra time with an injury-time header.
Illias Chair (5/10)
Azzedine Ounahi (6/10)
Anass Zaroury (6/10)
Badr Benoun (5/10)
Salem Amallah (5/10)
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