14/04/2024

Croatia celebrate their third-place finish after beating Morocco 2-1 (Image: FIFA World Cup / Twitter)

Both teams found plenty of chances at goal throughout the 90 minutes, but it was Croatia that held strong in the end to claim a 2-1 victory over Morocco in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Third-Place Playoff at Khalifa International Stadium.

The two sides’ first meeting at the 2022 World Cup ended with the score deadlocked at 0-0 in their Group F matchup. It was clear upon learning that they would face off again, that this third-place playoff would be a close encounter.

While both teams were very threatening in attack at different points throughout the game, Croatia fought the hardest and held off the opposition in the end to claim the victory.

Thankfully for those who feared that we may have been in for another low-scoring affair between the teams, we were pleasantly surprised as the game began in extremely entertaining fashion. It continued to be a tightly contested affair thereafter, with plenty of chances for each team and momentum swings throughout the contest.

Croatia found an early break, netting in the 8th minute after a free kick was sent to Ivan Perišić who headed it into the path of the eventual goalscorer, centre-back Joško Gvardiol.

The Moroccans hit back instantly though, scoring a header less than one minute later through their own centre-back Achraf Dari. A Moroccan free kick flew towards his head, deflecting off Croatian attacker Lovro Majer and falling straight to the defender for a simple finish.

Both teams had their chances at goal over the next 35 minutes or so, with some solid chances going wayward. However, it was Croatia who hit back with a few minutes left in the half as Mislav Oršić collected the ball on the side of the box and sent a long shot in at the far post.

With Morocco still threatening, Croatia had to protect their lead late in the game and were much less threatening going forward in the second half.

Moroccan striker Youssef En-Nesyri had a golden chance to equalise in the dying stages with the last shot of the game being sent over the bar and into the top of the net, ensuring that Croatia would claim their victory.

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A couple of contentious decisions had the Moroccans reeling with the referee in the latter stages, including a push to Achraf Hakimi on the age of the box in the second half, which resulted in no free kick, and the yellow card to Selim Amallah that upon inspection was a seemingly innocuous challenge at the time.

Although, there was also a very unlucky missed penalty for Croatia at the other end, with Sofyan Amrabat tripping up Joško Gvardiol in the box and VAR choosing to not overturn the referee’s decision.

With this victory, Croatia claim their second third-place finish at a World Cup. The first took place at France ’98, where legendary striker Davor Šuker led the line to bring them to victory over the Netherlands. The scoreline that day was also 2-1.

It was also their second consecutive podium finish, after a brilliant run at the last World Cup in Russia saw them make it to the final, before falling at the final hurdle to France.

For the Moroccans, fourth-place is a finish that they should all be proud of. The world didn’t even expect a team like them to make it out of the group, which had both Croatia and Belgium in it. But they went even better, entering the knockout stage with one of the best defensive records and eliminating powerhouses Spain and Portugal, en route to a semi-final against previous world champions France.

They didn’t go all the way, but nobody will forget what the African side did at this tournament. They were history makers, and captured the hearts of many. The true essence of what the FIFA World Cup is meant to be.

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