Croatia’s golden generation bowed out of the 2022 World Cup with a third-place finish in Qatar, four years after reaching the Final in Moscow. Morocco, a team likely to take this Croatian’s team’s mantle on the world stage as workhorses with talent to boot, lost 2-1 but went down fighting for an equaliser till the last kick of the match.
In contrast to the group-stage match between these teams earlier in the tournament, a drab 0-0 stalemate jokingly called ‘sufferball’ afterwards – the playoff was an exciting affair with end-to-end action with players intent on making a lasting impression before exiting the World Cup.
For Morocco, it was a display to the world that they weren’t just a team of low blocks and ‘running-till-the-wheels-come-off’ set of individuals. This was the Morocco that turned up against France. They were assured in their touch, confident in the strength of their football, particularly down their right flank and shared one crucial aspect with their opponents – industry.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 17, 2022
Croatia’s success over the past two World Cups may have baffled many. Arguments can be made that in both editions, there were teams that may have been better. But the sheer number of miles this team has put in over two tournaments has been the lifeblood of the football of the tiny country. To pluck out this kind of talent from a population of 4 million is worthy of the utmost respect.
Croatia scored twice in the first half. Both goals were pristine in their own right. The first, a calculated set-piece, finished off by a diving header from Josko Gvardiol. The second, a delicate dink from the left from Mislav Orsic, one that had not much power but simply beat Moroccan custodian Yassine Bounou on flight towards the end of the half.
Morocco, not willing to be outshone, had equalised through an Achraf Dari header earlier in the game. These would be the only goals of the game.
But the star of Croatia’s show remained the star of their football for the past decade.
Luka Modric was everywhere. This was a player playing with the knowledge that this would be his last game at a World Cup. He would pop up deep on the right flank, desperately putting a challenge in. A minute later, the camera would pan to the opposite end of the pitch and it would be Croatia’s tiny magician again, this time looking to pass into Moroccan channels. Today wasn’t about the pass from the outside of the boot that made him famous, but the sheer will to run more than anyone else.
Morocco brought on Selim Amallah and Azzedine Ounahi in the second half – two of their midfield mainstays. Both teams had penalty shouts denied by the referee and VAR, even though Croatia’s pleas seemed to have some merit to them.
During that period, Youssef El-Nesyri found himself in a one-on-one situation with Croatian custodian Dominic Livakovic, but the contender for the goalkeeper of the tournament lived up to his billing.
Croatia fashioned themselves chances towards the end. They were borne more out of Morocco attempting to get something out of the game. Matteo Kovacic came closest but what could have been a simple finish was dragged wide by the midfielder.
Subscriber Only Stories
Morocco kept trying for the equaliser, much like they did against France. The goal didn’t come then, and it didn’t come now. Morocco were defeated and Croatia’s golden generation walked away triumphant.