Manager Zlatko Dalic said that the “golden layer” of a third-place finish at the World Cup was added after Croatia beat Morocco in a play-off.
Dalic’s squad finished second to France four years ago, solidifying their place as a top-tier footballing nation with a third-place showing in the 1998 tournament.
Within the first seven minutes, Croatia took the lead thanks to a diving header from Josko Gvardiol. However, two minutes later, the score was tied thanks to a close-range header from Achraf Dari.
Mislav Orsic scored Croatia’s second with a beautiful curling shot that went in off the post three minutes before halftime. He then followed that up with a thumping, deflected drive that found the side netting shortly after the restart.
A promising season ended in consecutive losses for Morocco after a thrilling first half.
The bronze medal we won tonight has a golden coating, so it feels as if we won the gold tonight,” Dalic said.
Getting into a battle for third place and coming up short would have been disastrous. We have reached the final destination of this particular cycle. My team didn’t hold back, and this is exactly what we aim for.
It’s the kind of match no team wants to play in, but four million-strong Croatia will be pleased as punch with its performance.
The team is led by influential captain Luka Modric, who is 37 years old and making his 162nd national team appearance, but who may be making his final World Cup appearance.
Due to their advanced years, some of Dalic’s players will be leaving the World Cup after this tournament. But we have a lot of young talent on our team, so there is a lot of optimism surrounding Croatia. Our bench is stocked with a lot of up-and-coming players. Their confidence is bolstered by the experience of the veterans on the team.
Nothing to worry about for Croatia’s future. Is it safe to say that this is the final chapter? I don’t think so; in 2024, both the Nations League and the European Championship will be held. A fascinating future awaits Croatia, in my opinion.
Ivan Perisic’s flick on a free-kick was latched onto by Gvardiol, who soared through the air and headed it into the far corner for Croatia’s first goal.
Dari of Morocco immediately tied the game after a looping ball fell into his path, allowing him to score from a few yards out and set off wild celebrations among the fans.
Bilal El Khannouss, a teenage midfielder making his Morocco debut, showed off some nice touches but was ultimately to blame for Croatia’s second goal, which he gifted to the opposition by giving the ball away deep in his own half.
Orsic received a pass from Marko Livaja and curled a first-time shot past Yassine Bounou’s despairing reach into the net.
Morocco’s best chances for an equaliser came from Sevilla striker Youssef En-Nesyri, who hit the post in stoppage time and then forced knockout round penalty hero Dominik Livakovic into a sharp save from close range.
The team captained by Walid Regragui made history by advancing to the semi-finals for the first time in the tournament’s history, and their players and fans have brought the tournament to life.
Despite losing to France in the semifinals and to Croatia in the finals, their fans sang and drummed throughout the entire games and will be proud of their team’s accomplishments.
After going further in the tournament than anyone expected, Regragui said, “The doubts were in the minds of everyone before this tournament, but it is not enough. That should serve as a template for the future.
Seeing the smiling faces of young football fans has moved me. We have fostered young people’s imaginations and nurtured their hopes and aspirations.
More important to me than winning a game at the World Cup is fulfilling the dreams of kids in Morocco and around the world.
As great as what we have accomplished is, we want to do it again. One day we will win the World Cup if we can consistently advance to the semi-finals or quarter-finals.