Credit: FIFA

On Saturday 17 December 2022, the penultimate match, the 3rd place play-off, took place at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The match in which no team wanted to play (all semi-finalist wanted to win to go through to the final) took place at the Khalifa International Stadium between Croatia (the beaten finalists in Russia four years ago, conquerors of Brazil in the quarter-finals and who lost to Argentina in their semi-final) and Morocco (the first African side to qualify for a World Cup semi-final, who defeated Portugal in their quarter-final and who lost to France in their semi-final).

The two teams had met in their first group game in the tournament, drawing 0-0 and keeping their hopes alive for qualifying out of their group. But both teams had progressed through the tournament in similar fashion, well-structured and with a strong focus on a solid defence.

While none of the Moroccan team were household names in the tournament, possibly apart from Ziyech who plays at Chelsea, a number of the Croatian team certainly were, no less so than Luka Modric who won his 162nd cap in this game, most likely to be his last World Cup appearance. Also playing was left wing Ivan Perisic who needed one goal to become his country’s outright top scorer.

Croatia changed tactics and lined up with a back-three in a team that made 5 changes from their semi-final game, while Morocco changed from a back-five to a back-four, with 3 changes, all forced by injuries. Croatia lined up in their traditional strip of read and white check jerseys, with white socks and shorts; Morocco were kitted out in red jerseys and socks, with green shorts.

The referee was Abdulrahman Al Jassim from Qatar.

The match started with Croatia on the front foot, with more possession. On 6 minutes, follow a free kick, Gvardiol headed in past the despairing dive of Nono in Morocco’s goal. 1-0 to Croatia. A minute later, almost a carbon copy happened up the other end, with Morocco’s #20, Dari, heading a free kick into Croatia’s net beyond the reach of Livakovic. 1-1. Far from playing conservative and defensive football, credit was due to both teams for probing each other’s defences and attacking up the middle and down the flanks, for an entertaining spectacle. But for the next 15 minutes there was hardly a shot on goal. On 23 minutes, Bono came to Morocco’s rescue when stopping a shot from Modric which came through a congested penalty area. A couple of minutes later, Perisic headed over from a Croatian free kick. On 28 minutes, Morocco counter-attacked fast down the right wing; Hakimi’s cross was just behind En-Nesyr who could not get his head to the ball. A few minutes later and Morocco were threatening again, this time from the left, with Boufal seeing his shot blocked after running onto a good through-ball. On 36 minutes, En-Nesyr got onto the end of a Moroccan corner but his glancing header was just wide of the far post. And 4 minutes later, Ziyech had his first shot of the game, but it did not threaten the Croatian goal as his long-range shot was just wide. But Croatia got the ball back up the pitch and teased the Moroccan defence before they got the ball out left to Orsic who bent the ball around Bono and went in off the inside of the far post. 2-1 to Croatia. 2 added minutes. HT 2-1. Morocco made one substitution at the start of the second half, with Chair coming on for Sabiri. Croatia started strongly and won two corners in quick succession; on the counter-attack, Morocco moved the ball from side to side. On 55 minutes, Morocco made a second substitution, with El Khannouss giving way for Ounahi; 5 minutes later, Kramaric went off injured for Croatia, with Vlasic coming on to replace him. And Morocco made a couple more substitutions a couple of minutes later, with Croatia following suit. On 70 minutes, Vlasic had a powerful shot but it was just wide of the post. Morocco then had a few minutes of sustained pressure on the Croatian goal, with Livakovic pulling off a brilliant reflex save to deny Sosa of Morocco getting an equaliser. 10 minutes left. Morocco broke up the right wing, with Ziyech’s cross to long for any of his teammates to connect. Up the other end, Petkovic, on the pitch for 15 minutes, found some space on the left, but Morocco’s closed him down to prevent him teeing up a shot. On 86 minutes, Kovacic broke through but his shot flew past Bono wide of the post. Morocco claimed a penalty for hand ball nut the referee waved play in. 6 minutes added on. On 93 minutes, following sustained pressure while Croatia got all men back behind the ball, Morocco zipped in a cross from near the goal line, but Livakovic gathered cleanly. Then Pasalic had an opportunity at the death to grab an equaliser by his powerful header which hit the top of the net, but just after it had gone over (not under) the crossbar by millimetres. And that was it. FT 2-1 to Croatia, who finish 3rd. But Morocco can hold their heads high after coming 4th in the FIFA World Cup 2022.

The last match in the tournament, featuring Argentina (the pre-tournament favourites) and France (the holders) is being played today at 16:00