Croatia edges Morocco in 3rd-place match at men's World Cup
Gvardiol, Orsic score in 1st half to limit African sensations to 4th-place finish
Luka Modric high-fived and embraced his Croatia teammates after what was likely the midfield great's last appearance at the World Cup.
Some of the Morocco players sank to their knees in dismay, while others went in search of the referee to complain.
So much for this being a meaningless game.
Croatia ended up taking third place at the World Cup after a 2-1 win over Morocco at Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday.
To some, the third-place match is considered to be little more than an exhibition between two losing semifinalists. The day before the match, Morocco coach Walid Regragui described it as a "booby prize."
However, as the final whistle blew on Morocco's historic run at the World Cup, the disappointment was clear to see.
So, too, was the delight on Croatian faces.
Modric, at the age of 37 and a serial winner of soccer's biggest prizes with Real Madrid, could not keep the smile from his face as he went up to collect his bronze medal.
"This medal is very important for us, for me, for my country, for Croatia as a national team," Modric said. "We confirm with this medal that Croatia is playing an important role in world of football. We are leaving Qatar as winners."
The World Cup final between defending champion France and Argentina is scheduled for Sunday at Lusail Stadium.
Mislav Orsic scored the decisive goal for Croatia shortly before halftime to ensure Modric finished on a winning note, if this does indeed turn out to be his last World Cup match.
"Now it is step by step by step and continue until least the Nations League and after we will see," Modric said.
Gvardiols performances in defence have stood out at the World Cup.
Already linked with a host Europe's leading clubs, he is likely to win more admirers after his exploits in Qatar. Dalic said the Leipzig center back deserves to be named the best young player of the tournament.
"We made a comeback," said Gvardiol, referring to Tuesday's loss to Argentina in the semifinals. "We knew we had to be focused and show grit. Today we proved we deserved third place. We are going home celebrating."
It is the second time Croatia has taken third place at the World Cup. The team also achieved that feat in its first appearance at the tournament as an independent nation in 1998. They finished second in 2018.
"These are the moments we live for, we work for, we train for," Daliç said. "That's the most emotional moment of the World Cup for us, tonight's match and the win."
Morocco's miraculous run ends in defeat
After becoming the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals, Morocco's tournament ended in two losses. But the team's achievements in Qatar will be remembered for the outpouring of pride among Arab nations.
"Of course we are disappointed, but when we wake up tomorrow we will realize how much we have achieved," Regragui said. "We had 0.01% of winning this World Cup at the outset and we managed to get through to the last four. We played against some of the footballing powerhouses of the world.
"We are now one of the top four teams in the world and if you had told me that before the World Cup and that Morocco would be No. 4 in the world, I would have accepted that straight away."
Morocco's run to the semifinals was the unlikeliest story of the tournament, topping a group that contained Croatia and second-ranked Belgium. The team then beat Spain and Portugal in the knockout stages.
"For me, football makes people dream and children in particular," Regragui said. "In Morocco and Africa, we have kept those dreams alive. It means more than a victory at the World Cup."
The Atlas Lions were also the first Arab nation to go so far in the tournament, sparking an outpouring of pride among Arab countries during an event being held in the Middle East for the first time. Celebrations spread from Gaza City to Cairo. In Doha, the Moroccan community felt at home.
"We're very proud that all these Moroccans are behind us and it gives us great strength to go into the games," Morocco midfielder Ilias Chair said. "The fan support was unbelievable. If you look at the games, it felt like we were playing in Casablanca."
Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi became the first Moroccan players to participate in 10 World Cup matches.
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