Croatia defeated Morocco 2-1 in the World Cup third place play-off on Sunday morning, with Mislav Orsic curling home the stunning winner.
Josko Gvardiol, one of the stars of the tournament in Qatar, headed Croatia into the lead in the seventh minute at the Khalifa International Stadium but Achraf Dari brought Morocco level right away.
Orsic’s terrific curling strike late in the first half ensured Croatia took home the bronze medal, the 11th World Cup in a row a European team has finished third.
“It’s a bronze medal but for us it’s like a gold medal,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said.
Walid Regragui, the Morocco coach, said there was a lot for his team to proudly reflect on after they became the first African semi-finalists in World Cup history.
“It’s a bitter defeat but I think it’s deserved,” said Regragui.
“We have a team that never gave in. We’ll remember a lot of matches, we’re going to come back stronger. We’ve united our country for a month, everybody was happy.”
Morocco, who had never gone beyond the last 16 before this World Cup, had signalled their intent with a spirited display against 2018 runners-up Croatia in their opening game in Qatar.
The fairytale, however, is ending with a slightly bitter aftertaste after Regragui was seen arguing with match officials after the final whistle.
“A sad way for Morocco to end the tournament, as their manager and players surround the referee – furious about something,” the BBC’s Andy Cryer said.
“They have been exceptional in this tournament, as have Croatia. Probably the right result this evening.”
In was Croatia who appeared to have more reason to be angry with officials after Gvardiol appeared to be brought down in a clear foul inside the penalty area.
Croatia were furious when Gvardiol tumbled inside the area when his foot appeared to be caught by Sofyan Amrabat, but there was no VAR review.
The BBC’s Danny Murphy said: “It was a foul, it was enough of a foul. It was a penalty 100 per cent.
“It was a clear and obvious mistake and you can see why Gvardiol was so frustrated. Thankfully there haven’t been too many in this World Cup when we thought they have got that wrong. That one was obvious. I don’t know what they think they’ve seen to not give it.”
It could have proved a match-changing moment had Youssef En-Nesyri found a way past Livakovic, who spread himself superbly to block the striker from close range.
The rematch was nothing like the cagey 0-0 draw in the group stage, with Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou dangerously close to passing the ball into his own net early on.
Croatia soon surged in front from a well-rehearsed free-kick as Ivan Perisic nodded Lovro Majer’s clip into the box back towards a diving Gvardiol, who planted his header into the corner.
But Morocco hit back two minutes later when Hakim Ziyech’s free-kick looped up off the head of Majer, allowing Dari to head past Dominik Livakovic.
Andrej Kramaric headed straight at Bounou, who then did well to scoop the ball to safety as Marko Livaja closed in after he spilled a drive from Luka Modric.
Orsic curled in brilliantly via the post from the corner of the box to put Croatia back on top before half-time after 18-year-old Morocco debutant Bilal El Khannouss lost the ball deep in his half.
Orsic again went close moments after the restart, his goalbound effort brushing Jawad El Yamiq and fizzing narrowly past the post.
Mateo Kovacic put wide with the chance to put the game beyond doubt. Morocco had a late penalty appeal turned down and En-Nesyri headed just over but the Atlas Lions could not find a way back after their historic run.