Croatia 2-1 Morocco: Great goals and Modric’s World Cup last dance


Croatia won the third-place play-off game against Morocco in a game which featured some world-class goals.

Josko Gvardiol opened the scoring for Croatia with diving header from an expertly worked free kick, but Achraf Dari equalised for Morocco just two minutes later.

On the cusp of half-time, Mislav Orsic curled a stunning shot over Yassine Bounou in the Moroccan goal — a goal fit to win any third-place play-off.

Dermot Corrigan, Liam Tharme and Maram AlBaharna analyse the key talking points

This game is fun

The bar for excitement in this game had been set particularly low — a Croatia side that win games in extra-time against a depleted and exhausted Morocco outfit.

And in a tournament of goalless first halves, surely there was no chance we’d be entertained in a game of technically very little significance.

But how wrong we were. Morocco’s fans were as carnivalistic as they have been all tournament.

Two goals inside the first 10 minutes, with the first an impeccably worked training-ground routine from Croatia, ending with a pinpoint header from Josko Gvardiol, one of the players of the tournament. Would they have tried something this complex from that valuable a position in a knockout game? Probably not.

For Morocco to then equalise immediately after, it certainly did not seem like either side were not ‘up for it’.

With the first half at risk of becoming stale, Mislav Orsic, who came into the game with just one international goal in 27 appearances, then decided to bend a shot into the top corner from an absurd angle — would he shoot from there in a knockout game? Probably not. And perhaps that is the beauty of this game.

And then followed penalty shouts, emotional players, terrible VAR calls, players fuming at the referee and near-last-minute equalisers — almost like World Cup 2022 summed up in 90 minutes.

Liam Tharme

Straight off the training ground

The first goal of the game from Croatia seemed to tell the story of the entire half.

Every viewer is waiting for the final, this is just a game that is in the way, but the Moroccans wanted to have their say and the Croatians would not go out without a bang. And what a bang that goal was.

It was a beautifully intricate set piece that looked to be worked over and over again at the training ground — the ball never landed at a player’s feet before it was buried in the net.

It began with a lofted ball from Lovro Majer that found Ivan Perisic in the box like a needle out of a haystack. Although you could see it floating, you could not stop it.

From there it was a difficult but perfectly executed header from Perisic that found the leaping Josko Gvardiol in the box, outstretching his entire body forwards.

As easy as one, two, three.

Maram AlBaharna

Through this tournament Modric has dodged questions over his future but there could be a good chance that his 163rd senior international cap for Croatia was his last.

This game will not make the highlights reel of his 16 year international career, which has taken in 19 World Cup final games across four different finals in Germany, Brazil, Russia and now Qatar.

The 37-year-old was still a constant influence on the proceedings, as the Croatian player with most touches over the 90 minutes.

There was one moment in the first half when it looked like Modric was going to mark the occasion with a goal – there was a trademark shifting of his feet on the edge of the box, and snapshot through a defender’s legs, but Morocco goalkeeper Bono was able to save.

He was there too as Morocco pressed for an equaliser late on, dropping back into his defence to head clear a cross from Yahia Attiat-Allah, and snapping out to close down Hakim Ziyech as he lined up a shot from outside the area.

On the final whistle, Modric got a hug from his close friend and longtime teammate Mateo Kovacic. The joyous reaction from the Croatian players showed just how important it was to add a third placed finish at this World Cup, to their second place at the last one.

He will be missed, but has already played his part in bringing through the next generation of Croatian stars including Josko Gvardiol, Josip Stansic and his likely successor in the centre of the park Lovro Majer.

Dermot Corrigan

Lovro Majer watch

No, you weren’t seeing double of Luka Modric in the first half.

Croatia’s number seven is Lovro Majer, a central-slash-attacking midfielder who plays for Rennes in France and is set to be the heir to Modric’s positional throne when the 37-year-old does decide to retire — not that his performances at this World Cup looked like a player in the twilight of their career.

Majer, aged 24, is not exactly a direct replacement. He is better in advanced locations and was regularly looking to receive passes between the lines from Modric in the first half, operating in more of a No 8 role on the right of a midfield triangle.

Croatia’s consistency in developing quality, technical and dynamic central midfielders has not stopped — add Majer to the list of Modric, Rakitic, Brozovic and Kovacic in the Zlatko Dalic era.



Croatia, the team with the most talented midfield in international football

The left-footer showed his ability in the final third, taking Croatia’s set pieces and starting their training-ground routine set piece that led to the opening goal, pick-locking the defence to find Ivan Perisic. Even in open play he passes ambitiously and looks to create chances.

He did inadvertently create Morocco’s equaliser, flicking the initial delivery up into the sky in an attempt to clear, but Majer — who made his debut in May 2017 — only started for Croatia for the first time November 2021 in a 7-1 win at Malta in World Cup qualifying, where he scored twice.

Majer’s role this tournament had been an impact one, coming on in all six games and the only player to make this many substitute appearances, scoring against Canada in the group stages.

He only played 65 minutes against Morocco, but in that time only Orsic (11) had more passes into the final third for Croatia than Majer (10). Keep your eyes peeled for Majer at Euro 2024 — if they make it, obviously.

Liam Tharme

Morocco players futures

This World Cup has been a spectacular shop-window for many of the Moroccan players who have magnified their profiles with superb performances on the way to this game.

Basing big transfer decisions on the small sample size of a World Cup does not always work out, but it seems likely that Premier League scouts and directors have been keeping very close tabs on the likes of Sofyan Amrabat, Yousef En Nesyri and Azzedine Ounahi over the last few weeks.

So where will they end up?

Well it could feasibly bit a little bit like this…

Amrabat will sign for Tottenham for about €50 million in the next few weeks. He’ll make an excellent early impression as he continued his World Cup form through the second half of the 2022-23 campaign. But then Antonio Conte will criticise him harshly after Spurs lost at AC Milan in a Champions League group game in September, Amrabat will have his own go back while on international duty, leading to a long spell on the bench.

Sevilla will (not so) reluctantly accept a €45 million bid from En Nesyri from Nottingham Forest in January, given he has scored more goals at this World Cup than in La Liga in 2022. He will find it difficult to settle amid all the turmoil as Forest slide to relegation, and will be looking to move on again by next summer.

Sevilla sporting director Monchi will reinvest about half of the money raised by signing Ounahi from Angers, having already been tracking the midfielder since he was in Strasbourg’s youth team. Ounahi will be a huge success at the Sanchez Pizjuan, and Sevilla will eliminate Tottenham on the way to winning yet another Europa League trophy in June 2024.

(Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)


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