AL RAYYAN, Qatar —
Croatia’s “Golden Generation” is heading home from its final World Cup with a bronze medal and a slightly larger cut of the World Cup prize money after beating Morocco 2-1 in Saturday’s third-place game. And fittingly Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, the core of a team that reached the semifinals of the last world championships, played a role in Croatia’s final World Cup win.
The World Cup’s consolation final is often a wide-open, entertaining affair and Saturday’s was no different, with the teams trading early goals less than two minutes apart. Croatia struck first, behind Modric and Perisic, on a well-designed play that began with a Modric free kick toward the near post in the seventh minute. Perisic peeled away from his defender to head the ball back into the center of a box where a diving Josko Gvardiol nodded it in to become, at 20, the youngest player to score for Croatia in a World Cup.
The goal was the earliest Croatia has scored in this tournament while the assist gave Perisic a hand in his 11th World Cup goal since 2014. Only Argentina’s Lionel Messi has been involved in more. And only Messi has played in as many World Cup games over that span as Modric, 37, and Perisic, 33, who were starting for the 17th time.
Croatia’s lead didn’t last long though, with Hakim Ziyech looping a poorly placed free kick of his own toward the penalty area where Croatia’s Lovro Majer errantly bumped it high into the air in the direction of the six-yard box. An alert Achraf Dari ran onto the end of it there, sending a one-bounce header into the goal.
Croatia went back in front to stay just three minutes before the break after Morocco proved unable to clear the ball of its own penalty area. Majer won the ball back just outside the box and sent it toward the left edge of the area for Mislav Orsic, who curled a right-footed shot just over the outstretched right hand of Moroccan goalie Yassine Bounou and in off the far post.
That marked the second time in as many games that Morocco surrendered multiple goals after conceding only an own goal in its first five games here. But the country’s large and tireless red-clad fan base, whose incessant whistling and choreographed cheering became a big part of the soundtrack of this World Cup, never quieted. One couple high in the west grandstands even got engaged early in the first half.
Morocco coach Walid Regragui had promised to find time Saturday for players who hadn’t appeared in his team’s first six games and he delivered by starting 18-year-old midfielder Bilal El Khannouss, making him the youngest player to make his World Cup debut in the knockout rounds, then sending midfielder Ilias Chair on at the start of the second half. Forward Anass Zaroury made his World Cup debut less than 20 minutes later, coming in with defender Badr Benoun, who had played 27 minutes in Qatar before Saturday.
The only Moroccan who never saw the field in the tournament was Ahmed Red Tagnaouti, the third-choice goalkeeper.
Morocco, which made history in the first Arab World Cup by becoming the first African and first Arab nation to reach the semifinals, nearly tied the game in the 75th minute when a poor clearance from Gvardiol dropped to En-Nesyri at the right post. But his shot off the half-volley was stopped in spectacular fashion by Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic.