Is there a more bittersweet match in the FIFA World Cup than playing for third place? The teams facing off lost in their respective semifinal: Croatia, 2018 World Cup finalist, were denied passage to the final by Argentina, who cruised past them, 3-0, while Morocco were beaten 0-2 by France, the 2018 World Cup champion.
But for Croatia, defeating Morocco, 2-1, at Khalifa International Stadium, and finishing third among 206 nations in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, is still a huge feat. The bronze medals given to the Croatian squad serve as a permanent reminder of a run that still ended on a high note. A $27-million cash prize was also awarded to the Croatian federation.
Morocco’s historic fourth-place finish, the highest by any other African nation in the tournament, received $25 million.
Croatia drew first blood as the masked defender Josco Gvardiol executed a header at the 7th minute. Gvardiol, an RB Leipzig German football club defender, had to don the mask due to an injury he sustained before the start of the World Cup.
Two minutes later, Morocco’s Achraf Dari also made a header from close range to even the score.
The match featured a feisty exchange between the two squads known for their stout defense. But by the 42nd minute, Croatia’s Marko Livaja was able to assist a shot to Mislav Orsic who, in turn, made a right-footer. The ball sailed past goalkeeper Yassine Bounou’s head to the left side of the netting after it hit the right post to give Croatia the 2-1 edge to survive a scoreless second half.
Croatia’s and Morocco’s fate seemed to be intertwined. Both were in Group F during the eliminations and settled to a 0-0 draw when they fought. Both advanced to the knockout stage, with Morocco topping Group F with 7 accumulated points against Croatia’s 6.
Both were admired for eliminating the tournament’s heavyweights like Belgium’s “Golden Generation” in the Group Stage. Croatia shocked football fans when they ousted Brazil via a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals, and Morocco ended Spain’s title campaign in the Round of 16 with a penalty shootout and Portugal’s in the quarterfinals.
While receiving bronze medals pales in comparison to lifting the most prized trophy in football, Croatia, in placing third, represents the pinnacle of their international success in this edition of the World Cup.