When entering the Khalifa Stadium, the oldest stadium of the Qatari World Cup (inaugurated in 1976 but largely renovated since), we wondered a little what we were doing there. Apart from the supporters of the countries concerned, very clever is the one who remembers the results of the last small finals, a sign of their low importance. These matches for third place are the equivalent of appetizers at the restaurant: a nice thing that we nibble a little mechanically, but which, when you think about it for two minutes, does not serve much purpose except to keep us waiting. for the arrival of the starter-dish-dessert.
“We are in the place of the idiot whether we finish third or fourth”, let go with lucidity the Moroccan coach, Walid Regragui, before the match, who had promised to rotate his workforce for the occasion. A French supporter crossed in Doha on Friday confided to him, “not having much to do with it, like everyone else”. Even though the Croatian coach promised “a huge game” important for his country, after being crushed by Argentina in the semi-finals, the fear was strong to see two teams as exhausted by the accumulation of matches (seven in less than a month) as unmotivated.
Like an NBA All Star Game
Still, on the ground, the appetizers will have turned out to be tastier than advertised. Relieved of the pressure of the previous rounds in a game without stakes and driven by a desire to finish well, the two teams got into it from the start. No more long sequences of possession and low blocks leaving no space, sort of long rounds of observation: we saw 22 guys come to plant as much as possible, without really importing the defense, in the manner of an NBA All Star Game. Not really a habit for the Moroccans, so solid behind since the start of the tournament, and especially against the Blues on Wednesday.
It didn’t take ten minutes for the nets to shake. And even twice. From a superb free kick first, played on Perisic which returns the leather on Gvardiol, and the 20-year-old defender to deceive Bounou with a diving header. 1-0. Same situation for Morocco a few moments later, a free kick deflected again by a Croat and Achraf Dari who was dragging in the box ended with a header. One everywhere in the ninth minute. We do not remember having seen such a prolific start to the match.
The sequel is the same euphoria, based on attacks and counter-attacks, big chances on both sides. Except that the Croats seem less worn and more organized than the Atlas Lions. Low blows and simulations seem to have been left to the locker room, challenges to refereeing decisions are few. The public, overwhelmingly Moroccan, seems satisfied with what they see on the pitch, throwing a wave here, chants there. Just before half-time, like a handball team, the Croats rotate the leather around the Moroccan surface. Last to touch him, Orsic sends a delight of rolling from the left corner of the surface over Bounou who can only touch the ball. 2-1 at the break.
Second podium in a row for Croatia
The second act is more chaotic. Moroccan attackers impale themselves on Croatian defenders, and vice versa. Like machines that have been running for too long, the bodies of the players let go one by one. In the space of five minutes, a Croat and two Moroccans are injured. Their replacements are not more skilful. The tension goes up a notch at the end of the match. Selim Amallah is even on the verge of sending a mandal to the referee after a (bad) whistle. The score will remain there: for the second consecutive time, Croatia finishes on the podium of the World Cup. Morocco, robbed of a penalty at the end of the match, will forever remain the first African country to have reached the last four of a World Cup.