- Date: Saturday, December 17
- Kickoff Time: 7:00 am PT / 10:00 am ET / 3:00 pm GMT
- Location: Khalifa International Stadium
On the one hand, Croatia were looking to cap a two World Cup run in which they finished second and now third, respectively, while Morocco were already guaranteed the best finish ever for an African nation at a World Cup. They wanted to place third and solidify the incredible run that they have been on at this tournament. Will Luka Modric get a win in his final World Cup match, or is it the Atlas Lions who will end the competition on an even greater high?
Luka Modric, who was probably playing his last World Cup game was joined in midfield by Mateo Kovacic. Marcelo Brozovic who was forced off against Argentina was not fit enough to play. Defender Josko Gvardiol had recovered from a foot issue and lined up at the back alongside Josip Sutalo with Dejan Lovren missing.
Up front, Andrej Kramaric was selected over Bruno Petkovic and left-back Borna Sosa missed out. Josip Stanisic and Lovro Majer both came in, as did Marko Livaja and Mislav Orsic. There was no Mario Pasalic either.
Croatia XI: Dominik Livakovic, Josip Stanisic, Josko Gvardiol, Josip Sutalo, Ivan Perisic, Mateo Kovacic, Lovro Majer, Luka Modric, Marko Livaja, Mislav Orsic, Andrej Kramaric
Morocco, have been foced to make drastic changes because of injuries. Romain Saiss and Noussair Mazraoui were both taken off early in the semi-final.
“We have a lot of players injured, we’re on our last legs. We want to win but I also want to allow players who haven’t played to go out there and show what they can do. We’re going to try to win but I have a lot of players who need to recover.”
Morocco XI: Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Achraf Dari, Jawad El Yamiq, Yahya Attiat-Allah, Bilal El Khannouss, Abdelhamid Sabiri, Sofyan Amrabat, Hakim Ziyech, Soufiane Boufal, Youssef En-Nesyri
The match started with Croatia more than willing to get forward. It was the Moroccan keeper, Yassine Bounou who had hearts in mouths as he passed the ball across his goal and narrowly missed putting it into his own net. The pressure continued and a beautiful Croatian move was finished off by the masked wonder Josko Gvardiol with a flying header. A brilliantly executed free-kick and a well-timed header from Perisic putting the ball into danger zone led to the goal, the routine straight from a training ground.
The Moroccans wasted no time to respond and only took 122 seconds to equalize. Achraf Dari nodded in a high, looping ball that had been sent into the box from a miscleared freekick. The break neck pace of the game was incredible and we had only watched 9 minutes!
At the 15 minute mark, Croatia came forward again, pressing Morocco high up to win the ball 30 yards from goal. The ball is played quickly to Josip Stanisic, who drove it well over. The Croatians were starting to pile on the pressure.
It was another mistake by Morocco led to Croatia breaking out from the back with the ball at the feet of Andrej Kramaric. He fed Mislav Orsic, who cut inside but his strike hit Kramaric. Croatia picked up the loose ball before Kramaric directed a header too close to Bounou who snuffed out the chance.
Hakimi finally overlapped Ziyech and bombed down the wing. His threatening cross was just cut back too much and missed the head of the onrushing Youssef En-Nesyri. The Moroccans then had a period of control and an intricate passing play ended up with Boufal’s attempt being blocked. The Croatians were starting to look dishevelled and the work of Hakimi and Ziyech was causing the problems. It was then En-Nesyri who timed a run beautifully to meet the corner from Ziyech only for it to flash across the goal and go out for a goal kick.
Just before the end of the half there was a scramble at the edge of the 18 yeard box which ended up at the feet of Mislav Orsic. He was at the corner of the box and patiently guided the ball onto the far post and into the goal. Bounou was at full stretch and just could not stop the impossibly-curving shot. Morocco had been controlling the match for the last ten minutes but it was the Croatians who broke the deadlock.
At half time, Croatia were leading a World Cup match for the seventh time. They went on to win the game in the last six of those games. How would Morocco respond? First, they made a player change with Queens Park Rangers winger Ilias Chair coming on for Abdelhamid Sabiri.
The second half started at pace and it was Orsic who almost put the Croatians up by two with a wicked shot that was deflected wide by Jawad El Yamiq. The game settled down and Croatia started to sit back and then look for a counter attack to put the game out of the Morocco’s reach.
Morocco made another move and brought on Azzedine Ounahi. The wide midfielder has been one of the breakout stars of this World Cup. He came on for the 18 year old Genk midfielder Bilal El Khannouss who was playing in his first World Cup game after only making 16 senior appearances at club level in his career. Dari and Boufal were then replaced by Badr Benoun and Anass Zaroury.
It appeared that Morocco was giving some of their younger players a chance to experience the spectacle of the World Cup. The changes saw Morocco start to press forward. Marco Livaya and Majer were withdrawn with Petkovic and Pasalic joining the game. Morocco were forced into another change as their only natural centre back Jawad El Yamiq went down and was replaced by Amrabat who moved from the midfield to reinforce the back line.
Controversy reared it’s ugly head when Josko Gvardiol went down inside the box under a challenge by Sofyan Amrabat. Morocco turned defence into attack and a ball into the box found Youssef En-Nesyri unmarked but he was denied from point-blank range by Dominik Livakovic. The replays showed minimal contact on Gvardiol with the Croatian making far more of it than it warranted. If he stayed on his feet he had a clear path to goal.
The higher pressing of Morocco was also creating gaps at the back for the Moroccans and Croatia started to take advantage. With 5 minutes to go it was a brilliant pass by Orsic to Mateo Kovacic should have ended the game but the Chelsea player only scuffed the ball wide of the post.
Morocco then had some half chances and the game moved into extra time. Croatia were happy to sit back and absorb the pressure. Morocco’s build up picked up pace as they scrambled for an equalizer. A cross from Zaroury was easily handled by Livakovic. The potential game winner, Orsic, was withdrawn in the final minute. A Moroccan cross from Yahya Attiat-Allah was met by Youssef En-Nesyri but the ball went agonizingly over the bar. It was the final moment as the whistle blew to end the game and give Croatia the victory.
A third place game in tournament play can often be disappointing. This game was anything but that. For Morocco it was about leaving a legacy. A lot of people had talked about them negatively because of their defensive play. They had only conceded one goal before they met France in the semi final match. However, in the last few games they had started to play on the front foot and they got better each game. The passion of their fans were a joy to watch. Moroccans should be proud of all that this team accomplished.
Croatia have now finished the last two World Cups in second and third place. It will be interesting to see how they deal with their aging players who have been the core of the team for the past four tournaments. RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol is a towering center back that is considered to be one of the game’s brightest up-and-coming defenders, finishing sixth in the running for the Kopa Trophy which is given to the world’s best U-21 player.
Luka Modric has probably played his final World Cup game although he was the dynamo for his team right up to the last whistle. The former world player of the year has done so much in his career and his play on the World Cup stage was always of the highest quality. Was it the final game? Over to you Luka.
Congratulations to Croatia on another great World Cup!