World Cup result: Croatia beat Morocco to finish third behind Mislav Orsic’s spectacular goal

Croatia was on the podium for the third time in the last seven World Cups. It may be a setback for the defeated finalists of 2018, but in what will surely be his last game on the biggest stage, Luka Modric can say goodbye as the winner.

He was on top form until the end when Morocco’s fairytale run was shattered in the first half, goals from Josko Gvardiol and Mislav Orsic propelled Croatia to another third place meaning they share bronze with the great side of 1998 become medals in their collection.

These games can go one of two ways, either heavy-legged and devastated internationals will trudge through an opportunity they’d rather be elsewhere (even more understandable in the event of a mid-season World Cup), or the two teams can take it upon themselves to leave the global stage with a vengeance. It was quickly apparent these latter two would deliver, an outrageously constructed free-kick that saw Ivan Perisic fire the first delivery over the goal for a diving Josko Gvardiol to slip into goal.

Their lead lasted less than two minutes. Morocco’s equalizer was far less elegant, no less effective. Hakim Ziyech’s shot didn’t clear the second man but a Croatian head just spun the ball up in the air, Achraf Dari judging his flight and tucking it in. Both sides had their chance for a second before half-time was over, Achraf Hakimi crossing just past Youssef En-Nesyri who was waiting to flick into an empty goal but it was Croatia who took it.

Orsic’s goal was among the best goals of the tournament. Finding a spot on the far left of the penalty area, he opened his body and landed what appeared to be a drilled lob at Yassine Bounou’s far post. The Moroccan goalkeeper landed as the ball rebounded off the far post and into his net.

The Moroccan legs might have tired in the second half as barely 10 minutes went by without injury, but they were still chasing the tie, En-Nesyri scoring a superb save from Dominik Livakovic just after Sofyan Amrabat, amazingly, with one Foul on Gvardiol had escaped in his own area. Although En-Nesyri came close with a last-second header, Croatia’s ability to dictate possession over long distances meant they could crush their opponent’s energy reserves and easily reach the finish line of another outstanding World Cup campaign.

Tired legs and heads in Moroccan colors

In the end, the sheer effort of getting this far dashed Morocco’s hopes of achieving the unimaginable. They showed technical quality to the end, but they just didn’t have the fitness to stay the course. Maybe that was a great misfortune, maybe the price that every team has to pay for being without the ball for so long against Portugal and Spain. Walid Regragui’s side ended the tournament with serious injuries after four central defenders fell last week.

Goal scorer Dari clearly struggled before the end of the first half. There was a quarter of the game left when Tariq El Yamiq left. Starting centre-backs Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd were both eliminated within 20 minutes of losing to France. No wonder the fierce organization of the round of 16 and quarter-final victories could not be seen, the Moroccan defense was at sea with nervous clearances in the first half and two defenders wanted to clear a single ball.

Further up, the same fatigue manifested itself in heavy passes and movements that just died with the last pass. Hakim Ziyech was thoroughly finished, perhaps placed in a central role because he didn’t have the legs to beat his man far. They rehearsed and tested to the last, but they didn’t have the strength to put constant pressure on Croatia.

Croatia says goodbye with a climax

Those who have watched any of these tournaments in the last month may feel inundated with Croatian population statistics – did you know that Split, the second largest city, has about the same population as Hayward, the sixth largest city? in the bay area? – but there is a reason. There are countries with ten times the population, with economic power, a rich history in football and talented players who have not matched Croatia’s successes in the six World Cups they have played in.

Great Modric aside, this whole campaign had something of a coda after its brilliance in 2018. They weren’t good enough to beat the best in 120 minutes, but they could drive teams to frustration knowing it’s rarely a bad idea, pressurizing players to win a penalty shootout, their ball-stroke quality and confide serenity.

We may not see anything similar from Croatia anymore. This was certainly Modric’s last dance and it’s hard to imagine his comrade-in-arms Ivan Perisic returning to the world stage at the age of 37. Even if the likes of Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic and Orsic make it to North America in 2026, they will likely find themselves on the descent of their careers. Of course there are young talents on the rise, most notably Gvardiol but also Luka Sucic, but there are only a finite number of Diamonds in a nation of a few million. This could be it for Croatia at the highest level. But then again, we said that four years ago, and also after her third place finish in 1998.

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