By Henry Burt
Croatia defeated a spirited but exhausted Morocco to win 2-1 to seal third place at the World Cup.
Zlatko Dalic’s side were torn apart by Lionel Messi and Argentina in the semi-finals but today looked more like they used to be, controlling the game and taking the lion’s share of chances.
Morocco’s magic ran out in their semi-final defeat by France, and it looked like this might be another game too far for the Atlas Lions, who conceded after just six minutes when Josko Gvardiol headed in after a intricate set-piece program.
Just two minutes later, however, Morocco evened the score with a goal in the spirit of how they played during this World Cup. After breaking through the lines to put pressure on Croatia and winning a free kick, centre-back Achraf Dari was able to exploit the confusion in the opposition penalty area to head in from close range.
It was the perfect opening 10 minutes for a game that many feared would feel like a dead rubber, with both sides clearly intent on finishing this World Cup on a high.
Both sides continued to give each other troubles as time wore on, but it was Croatia who took the lead again just before the break. Morocco failed to clear the ball after an attack from Croatia and Marko Livaja was able to set up Mislav Orsic, who passed Yassine Bounou and slotted into the far post.
The second half lacked the pace and excitement of the first half, with Morocco succumbing to multiple injuries forcing Walid Regragui to move midfielder Sofyan Amrabat into central defence.
The biggest talking point came with 20 minutes to go when referee Abdulrahman Ibrahim Al Jassim waved away the cries for a penalty after Gvardiol crashed in the box.
Replays showed that the defender had indeed had his foot blown off by Amrabat, but the VAR bizarrely decided not to intervene.
Although Morocco kept pushing until the end, coming close in the final seconds through Youssef En-Nesyri, Croatia managed to hold on 2-1 to clinch third place.
Although both teams dreamed of reaching the coveted World Cup final, today they made themselves proud and made it a real competition.
Croatia player ratings (3-5-2)
GOALKEEPER: Dominik Livakovic – 7/10 – I had a couple of good stops to cap off a fantastic tournament.
BC: Josip Stanisic – 7/10 – A very confident performance from the defender, who played in an excellent World Cup.
CB: Josip Sutalo – 6/10 – A solid if unspectacular performance.
CB: If Guardiol – 8/10 – What a header Gvardiol scored to give Croatia the lead. He really announced himself in Qatar and was imperious once again today.
RWB: Lovro Majer – 6/10 – He didn’t play much in Croatia’s attacks and was rightly substituted.
CM: Matteo Kovacic – 7/10 – Another vintage performance from Kovacic, who was just as effective as his accomplice Modric in this World Cup. Really should have marked that final chance, but…
MC: Luka Modric – 7/10 – This may be the last we see of Modric in a Croatia shirt, and the 37-year-old hasn’t disappointed as he looked wonderfully composed throughout.
LWB: Ivan Perisic – 8/10 – Perisic had an excellent World Cup and finished on a high note here, assisting Gvardiol’s goal with a cleverly deflected header. Another Croatian player who may not see another World Cup, the Tottenham Hotspur winger has reminded his country of what it will miss when he leaves.
AM: Andrej Kramaric – 7/10 – He put in a tough shift and it was sad to see his afternoon end early with injury.
M: Mislav Orsic – 7/10 – Spurs and Chelsea fans still have Orsic nightmares from his Champions League performances for Dinamo Zagreb, and here he lived up to his reputation with a stunning curled finish.
ST: Marko Livaja – 6/10 – He had one assist, but was also guilty of breaking up several Croatian forwards.
BELOW: Nikola Vlasic (61′ for Kramaric – 6/10
BELOW: Mario Pasalic (66′ for Livaja) – 5/10
SUB: Bruno Petkovic (66′ for Majer) – 6/10
BELOW: Kristijan Jakic (95′ for Orsic) – N/A
Zlatko Dalic – 7/10 – Croatia weren’t themselves against Argentina, but Dalic purred again today. He deserves extra points if he was also involved in devising that free kick routine.
Morocco player ratings (4-3-3)
GOALKEEPER: Yassine Bounou – 5/10 – He was undoubtedly the best goalkeeper of this World Cup, but today Bounou looked anything but confident in goal.
RB: Ashraf Hakimi 6/10 – He defended well and pushed his team forward continuously, but lacked the end product that could turn things around for his team.
BC: Jawad El Yamiq – 6/10 – He had a good game but was forced out through injury.
BC: Achraf Dari – 7/10 – He scored a well taken goal and defended well, although sadly he had to leave early with injury.
LB: Yahia Attiyat Allah – 5/10 – It never really moved on.
DM: Sofyan Amrabat – 6/10 – Not the best moment for Amrabat, who has been one of the stars of this World Cup, although, in his defence, he had to get into the backline for the last half hour due to injuries to his team-mates.
CM: Abdelhamid Sabiri – 5/10 – Morocco’s low-blocking tactics didn’t help control the game as it did during this tournament, and the game largely slipped past Sabiri before he was pegged at half-time.
CM: Bilal El Khannous – 6/10 – Like Sabiri, he struggled to make any significant impact against a firm and experienced Croatian midfield.
AD: Hakim Ziyech – 7/10 – A bright spark in the Moroccan attack, most of their best game has come through Ziyech.
AS: Sofiane Boufal – 6/10 – The former Southampton player earned plaudits with his performances in Qatar, but today he was more familiar with what Saints fans might remember from his time on the south coast.
ST: Youssef En-Nesyri – 5/10 – Peripheral to much of the action in the game, though to be fair, he hardly got a hint of service from his teammates.
SUB: Ilias chair (46′ for Sabiri) – 5/10
BELOW: Azzedine Ounahi (56′ for Khannous) – 6/10
BELOW: Anass Zaroury (64′ for Boufal) – 6/10
BELOW: Badr Banoune (64′ for Dari) – 5/10
BELOW: Selim Amallah (68′ for El Yamiq) – 5/10
Walid Regragui – 6/10 – Regragui only took charge of Morocco in August and had strong results with the squad at the World Cup, creating a well-organised and incredibly effective squad. If we are to be critical, however, the manager could be blamed for his reluctance to rotate, possibly causing the string of injuries that marred his team’s performances against France and Croatia.
Player of the match – Ivan Perisic
This article was originally posted on 90min.com as Croatia 2-1 Morocco: Player ratings as Kockatsi secure World Cup bronze.