Friday, June 9, 2023

Croatia beat Morocco 2-1 to finish third in the World Cup

AL RAYAN, Qatar (AP) — Luka Modric led Croatia to a third-place finish in what was likely the midfield great’s last World Cup appearance.

The runners-up four years ago secured another medal after beating Morocco 2-1 in the third-place match on Saturday.

Mislav Orsic scored the decisive goal shortly before halftime at the Khalifa International Stadium to ensure Modric would end on a winning note if it proved to be his last World Cup match.

At the age of 37, it seems likely, even if there are expectations that he will lead his country in the 2024 European Championship.

Josko Guardiol put Croatia ahead in the seventh minute, but Achraf Dari equalized in the ninth minute.

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This is the second time that Croatia has secured the third position. The team also achieved this feat in 1998 in their first World Cup as an independent nation.

After becoming the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, Morocco’s tournament ended in two defeats. But the team’s achievements in Qatar will be remembered for the outpouring of pride among the Arab nation.

The World Cup final between defending champions France and Argentina is to be held at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday.

The third place match is considered by some to be a meaningless exhibition. Even Moroccan coach Walid Regragui described it as a “silly prize” in the buildup. But neither team lacked the motivation in a tightly contested game between two nations that few expected.

Several players needed to be substituted due to injuries in the second half as Morocco pushed for an equaliser.

The teams had already played out a 0–0 draw in the group stage and advanced to the semi-finals on the back of tight defence, with a combined six fixtures. This time goals were not a problem.

Perhaps this was due to the relative freedom of playing a game in which something was allegedly at stake. Another factor, for Morocco at least, was the absence of three key defenders, Romain Sass, Nayef Aguird and Noussair Mazrouei.

The effect of those absences was felt when Croatia took the lead with Guardiol’s diving header. In a clever move, Ivan Perisic fired a free kick into the middle of the penalty box and the center backs did the rest.

Morocco responded two minutes later when Lovro Mezar inadvertently assisted Hakim Ziyech’s free kick and Dari equalised.

However, three minutes before halftime Croatia were back.

Orsic picked up the ball on the left side of the box and fired a shot into the top corner. Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou got a touch on the ball but could only push it over the post on its way into the net.

James Robson is at

AP World Cup coverage: and

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