Croatia have eased past Morocco 2-1 to claim third place in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
A sublime header from Joško Gvardiol in the seventh minute made the 20-year-old Croatia’s youngest-ever goal scorer in the national shirt.
Two minutes later, Achraf Dari equalised with a header of his own, and Saturday’s game looked like it might be a goal-fest for the ages.
But action at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium settled after 10 frantic opening minutes into an entertaining, if less frenetic, match-up as both teams attempted to end their World Cup journey on a high.
Croatia, the 2018 runners-up, started to dominate possession, with Morocco happy to sit deep and contain.
The winner came in the 42nd minute, when Mislav Orsic lobbed a curling ball over the Morocco keeper Yassine Bounou with power, clipping the inside of the far post to rebound into the opposite side netting.
An absolute peach of a shot that meant that Qatar 2022 was the 11th World Cup in a row that a European team finished third.
“It was a great game, we still can’t measure what happened today. Only after a few days we will realise how big this victory is,” Orsic said after the game.
“It was the most important game of my career and I’d like to dedicate it to my family and all the Croatian fans.”
Morocco coach Walid Regragui said he was “a bit disappointed” with a second consecutive defeat but that “they did everything.”
“Our players got very tired. We’re going to learn a lot from this World Cup and we know we’ll need to come back even stronger,” he said.
The last time these two sides faced each other, in the group stage just three weeks ago, the result was a goalless draw. Now, with nothing left to lose, both teams put in a spirited performance for a game that was little like their nervy last encounter.
In an action-packed opening period, Bounou came dangerously close to passing the ball into his own net in the first few seconds of the game. Then Croatia surged in front from a well-rehearsed free kick, as Ivan Perisic nodded Lovro Majer’s clip into the box back towards a diving Gvardiol, who planted his header into the corner.
But Morocco hit back when Hakim Ziyech’s free kick looped up off the head of Majer, allowing Dari to head past Dominik Livakovic in the Croatian goal.
Andrej Kramaric went on to head straight at Bounou, who did well to scoop the ball to safety as Marko Livaja closed in.
Orsic curled in brilliantly via the post from the corner of the box to put Croatia back on top before half-time after 18-year-old Morocco debutant Bilal El Khannouss lost the ball deep in his half.
Orsic again went close moments after the restart, his goal-bound effort brushing Jawad El Yamiq and fizzing narrowly past the post.
Croatia were furious when Gvardiol tumbled inside the area after his foot appeared to be caught by Sofyan Amrabat, but there was no VAR review.
It could have proved a match-changing moment when, moments later, Youssef En Nesyri found a way past Livakovic, who spread himself superbly to block the striker from close range.
Mateo Kovacic went wide with the chance to put the game beyond doubt. Morocco had a late penalty appeal turned down and En Nesyri headed just over in the dying seconds, but the Atlas Lions could not find a way to end their historic run with a victory. – Al Jazeera and news agencies