Croatia vs Morocco: Croatia claim narrow win over Morocco in World Cup third-place playoff

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Croatia edged to a close-fought 2-1 victory over Morocco on Saturday to ensure a third-place finish at the World Cup in Qatar.

Defender Josko Gvardiol, who has been one of the standout players at the tournament, scored a header on seven minutes to hand Croatia an early lead, but Morocco fired back shortly after through a close-range header from defender Achraf Dari in what was his first international goal.

Morocco are the only African team in World Cup history to reach this stage of the competition, but they were consigned to a fourth-place finish as Croatia winger Mislav Orsic netted a superb curled effort on 42 minutes that proved to be the winner.

Croatia finished runners-up in Russia four years ago and were hoping for an unlikely return to the final in Qatar but saw their tournament end on Tuesday in a 3-0 semifinal defeat to Argentina. Croatia previously finished third in their first-ever World Cup appearance in 1998.

Croatia followed up their second place finish in Russia in 2018 with third place in Qatar.

“This is bronze with a golden glow. We won a tough game,” said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, who also led the nation of just 4 million people to their runners-up finish in Russia four years ago.

“This is a medal for the Croatian people… It’s really great that we won two medals in two tournaments, big congratulations to my players.”

There were signs of nerves from Morocco early on with goalkeeper Yassine Bounou nearly scything a clearance into his own goal in just the third minute.

Croatia started the game on the front foot and took the lead in the seventh minute through a cleverly worked set-piece. A cross floated into the box found Ivan Perisic who expertly headed the ball into the mix where Gvardiol bravely dived in for the header to silence the Moroccan fans.

However, the lead was short-lived as just two minutes later, Morocco responded at the other end with a set piece of their own when a cross came off Lovro Majer’s head and looped into the box where an unmarked Dari beat the goalkeeper with a header.

Emboldened by the equaliser, Morocco began to find chinks in the Croatian defence, with their movement and passing helping to create several chances. But the African side lacked the killer instinct in front of goal.

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