World Cup 2022: Morocco's Qatar adventure ends in defeat to Croatia in third-place match
Morocco's 2022 Qatar World Cup history-making adventure ended on Saturday with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Croatia in the play-off match for third place at the Khalifa International Stadium, Doha.
Zlatko Dalic's Croatian side were runners-up to France four years ago and confirmed their status as one of the elite footballing nations with another third-place finish to go alongside that secured in their competition debut in 1998.
Josko Gvardiol gave Croatia the lead on seven minutes with a superb diving header, but Achraf Dari levelled for the Atlas Lions just two minutes later by nodding home from close range.
Mislav Orsic curled in a sumptuous winner for Croatia via the post three minutes before half-time.
With their stunning 1-0 victory over Portugal in the quarter-final, Morocco became the first Arab and African country to reach the last four in a World Cup. Along the way, they earned plenty of plaudits throughout the tournament for their energy, strong defence and attacking flair.
Their dream of ultimately winning the competition ended with a 2-0 semi-final defeat to reigning champions France.
The Atlas Lions have also won praise from Muslim fans for displaying their Islamic beliefs by reading passages from the Quran during the games and praying on the field after their victory over Portugal, as well as for flying the Palestinian flag following each victory.
Before this World Cup, Morocco had won only two out of 15 games across five World Cup tournaments, against Scotland in 1998 and Portugal in 1986, the year the Atlas Lions made it out of the group stages for the first time.
Morocco was the only team from the Middle East and North Africa to make the last 16, after Qatar, Iran, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia were eliminated during the group stages.
In the group stages, following a spirited goalless draw against Croatia, the Atlas Lions pulled off a stunning 2-0 victory over Belgium, ranked world number two, in a pulsating match at Al-Thumama stadium. They then wrapped up first place in Group F with a convincing 2-1 win over Canada.
In the knockout rounds, they held their nerve to beat Spain 3-0 in a penalty shoot-out after a goalless draw, before eliminating Portugal in the quarter-finals with a stunning 1-0 win.