Croatia has edged past Morocco 2-1 to claim third place at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
A sublime header from Joško Gvardiol in the seventh minute made the 20-year-old Croatian the youngest goalscorer in Croatia’s history in the national jersey.
Two minutes later, Achraf Dari equalized with a header of his own, and Saturday’s game looked to be a goal fest for history.
But the action at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium settled down after a hectic opening 10 minutes in an entertaining, if less hectic game, as both teams tried to end their World Cup journey on a high.
Croatia, the 2018 runners-up, began to dominate possession, with Morocco happy to sit back and contain.
The winner of Mislav Orsic
The winning goal came in the 42nd minute, when Mislav Orsic flung a curling ball past Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, which hit the inside of the far post and bounced into the opponent’s net.
An absolute peach of a shot which meant Qatar 2022 was the 11th consecutive World Cup in which a European team finished third.
“It was a great match, we still can’t measure what happened today. Only after a few days we will realize how big this victory is,” Orsic said after the match.
“It was the most important game of my career and I would like to dedicate it to my family and all the Croatian fans.”
Morocco coach Walid Regragui said he was “a bit disappointed” by the second consecutive defeat but “they did everything”.
“Our players got very tired. We are going to learn a lot from this World Cup and we know that we will have to come back even stronger”, he said.
The last time these two teams met, in the group stage just three weeks ago, the result was a goalless draw. Now, with nothing to lose, both teams turned in a spirited performance for a game that was nothing like their last nerve-wracking encounter.
In an action-packed opening period, Bounou came perilously close to putting the ball into her own net in the opening seconds of the game. Croatia then took the lead with a well-rehearsed free-kick, as Ivan Perisic headed Lovro Majer’s clip in the box towards a diving Gvardiol, who planted his header in the corner.
But Morocco struck back when Hakim Ziyech’s free kick bounced off Majer’s head, allowing Dari to head home Dominik Livakovic into the Croatian goal.
Bilal El Khannouss debuts
Andrej Kramaric went on to head straight to Bounou, who did well to get the ball to safety as Marko Livaja closed up.
Orsic brilliantly finished off across the post from the corner of the box to put Croatia back on top before halftime after 18-year-old Moroccan debutant Bilal El Khannouss fumbled deep in his half.
Orsic was close again moments after the restart, his attempted goal brushing past Jawad El Yamiq and narrowly missing the post.
Croatian sentence appeal
Croatia were furious when Gvardiol fell inside the box after Sofyan Amrabat appeared to catch his foot, but there was no VAR review.
It could have been a defining moment when, moments later, Youssef En Nesyri found a way past Livakovic, who spread magnificently to block the striker from close range.
Mateo Kovacic went wide with the chance to put the game out of doubt. Morocco were denied a late penalty and En Nesyri headed in in the dying seconds, but the Atlas Lions couldn’t find a way to end their historic run with a win.
All eyes are now on Sunday’s final at Lusail Stadium, where defending champions France take on Argentina at 13:00 GMT.
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