Croatia’s third top-three finish at the World Cup has a “golden layer”, said boss Zlatko Dalic after his side clinched a play-off victory over history-makers Morocco.
Dalic’s 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.
In a frantic opening, Josko Gvardiol gave Croatia the lead on seven minutes with a superb diving header but Achraf Dari levelled just two minutes later by nodding home from close range.
Mislav Orsic curled in a sumptuous second for Croatia via the post three minutes before half-time and struck a thumping, deflected drive into the side-netting after the break.
The second half could not match the energy of a thrilling opening period and Morocco failed to find an equaliser as a fruitful campaign ended in back-to-back defeats.
Dalic said: “We won the bronze medal and it has a golden layer, it is like we have won the gold medal tonight.
“Fighting for the third place play-off and losing would have been a disaster. This is the end of a cycle, end of a journey. My players spared no efforts and these are what we work for.”