Morocco and Croatia play out third World Cup stalemate


World Cup 2018 runners-up Croatia made a frustrating start to their Group F campaign as a resolute Morocco secured a 0-0 draw in Al Khor.

It was the third goalless draw at this winter’s tournament in the space of 24 hours, and chances were at a premium with both defences on top. Indeed, three of the last four games at the World Cup have finished 0-0, more goalless draws than there were in the previous 73 matches in the competition combined.

There were just attempts on target from both teams in a match played in searing desert heat despite the best efforts of the air-conditioned Al Bayt Stadium, 50km north of Doha.

Morocco have proved to be one of the most difficult sides to beat in world football of late, and have now lost just two of their last 41 games across a three-year spell, while Croatia extended their own unbeaten run to seven games in a game that will not live long in the memory.

Ivan Perici flashes a shot over the bar in the first half
Image: Ivan Perisic flashes a shot over the bar in the first half

Player ratings

Morocco: Bono (7), Hakimi (8), Saiss (7), Aguerd (7), Mazraoui (5), Ounahi (5), Amrabat (7), Ziyech (6), Amallah (5), Boufal (5), En-Nesyri (5).

Subs: Sabiri (n/a), Ezzalzouli (5), Attiyat Allah (6), Hamdallah (n/a).

Croatia: Livakovic (7), Juranovic (7), Lovren (8), Gvardiol (7), Sosa (7), Modric (6), Brozovic (7), Kovacic (5), Vlasic (5), Kramaric (5), Perisic (6).

Subs: Majer (n/a), Livaja (6), Pasalic (6).

Player of the match: Achraf Hakimi.

How Croatia failed to break down Morocco

Morocco's Hakim Ziyech (left) and Croatia's Mateo Kovacic battle for the ball
Image: Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech (left) and Croatia’s Mateo Kovacic

Croatia, beaten by France in the final four years ago, were making their sixth World Cup appearance, having either been eliminated in the group stages or at least reached the semi-finals. But they would fail to score for the first time in 12 World Cup matches, since what was their only other goalless draw in the competition against Japan in 2006.

Zlatko Dalic’s contract is up after this tournament, but he watched his side produce a flat display in the opening period as Morocco looked the more cohesive unit. Youssef En-Nesyri ought to have met Hakim Ziyech’s cross from the right but the striker failed to make contact with the inviting cross.

Big moments in the game…

  • 17 min: Ivan Perisic flashes a shot from distance that goes just over the bar.
  • 18 min: Youssef En-Nesyri really ought to have met Hakim Ziyech’s cross but he misses his header completely.
  • 45 min: Bono denies Nikola Vlasic from point blank range in the game’s best chance.
  • 45 min +1: Luka Modric fires a shot over the crossbar from the edge of the box.
  • 52 min: Sofiane Boufal’s shot is blocked by Dejan Lovren, who survives appeals for handball.

The only previous meeting between these two nations was in the Hassan II Trophy in December 1996, played in Casablanca, but here was a very different backdrop. The first half only really sprung into life in stoppage time as Croatia went close on two occasions.

First, Ivan Perisic expertly found full-back Borna Sosa on the overlap down the left and his low cross was swept on target by Nikola Vlasic but Sevilla goalkeeper Bono made a fine stop.

Croatia's Andrej Kramaric competes for the ball with Morocco's Selim Amallah (left) and Sofyan Amrabat
Image: Andrej Kramaric competes for the ball

At 45 minutes and 12 seconds, Vlasic’s saved attempt for Croatia was the latest first shot on target in a match at the 2022 World Cup so far. And with virtually the last kick of the half, Luka Modric latched onto a loose ball following Perisic’s blocked shot but his first-time effort fizzed over the bar.

Croatia, who had won their two previous World Cup games against African opposition by an aggregate of 6-0 – against Cameroon and Nigeria – survived a penalty appeal moments after the restart as Sofiane Boufal’s shot was blocked by Dejan Lovren.

Team news

  • Croatia midfielders Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic were both start their World Cup Group F opener at Al Bayt Stadium after overcoming injury issues.
  • Kovacic was available for the 2018 runners-up despite struggling with a knee injury recently, while Brozovic played 70 minutes in their final warm-up game, allaying fears about his involvement at the tournament.
  • Morocco defender Nayef Aguerd started despite making only one league appearance this season for his club West Ham.

Replays showed Lovren was just outside the box when the ball struck his arm, sparing the former Liverpool centre-back a VAR inquest.

Just after the hour mark, Achraf Hakimi struck a venomous free-kick that Dominik Livakovic watched closely to punch clear.

Morocco continued to probe in search of a first World Cup victory since beating Scotland in 1998, but it was Croatia – with Modric’s influence growing – who increasingly looked the more likely to find a breakthrough that would never come.

Croatia's Borna Sosa and Morocco's Hakim Ziyech compete for the ball
Image: Croatia’s Borna Sosa and Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech

Croatia and Modric’s influence show signs of regressing

Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds:

“Croatia are perennially slow starters, having lost their opening game in three of their five World Cup appearances, with the exceptions being 1998 and 2018, when they reached the final.

“But against Morocco on Wednesday, it felt as if their emphasis was placed on playing not to lose.

“Dalic’s side are 12th in the FIFA rankings, 10 places above Morocco, but they cancelled each other out in this opening Group F contest. The Atlas Lions have only lost twice since the beginning on 2021 – once on penalties to Egypt in the African Cup of Nations – and it is clear to see why they are so hard to beat on this evidence.

Croatia's Luka Modric (right) and Morocco's Sofyan Amrabat battle for the ball
Image: Luka Modric (right) and Morocco’s Sofyan Amrabat

“Croatia’s World Cup qualification was smooth and they topped their Nations League group ahead of France but having failed to score past Morocco, the bookmakers will feel vindicated in having them as outsiders in Qatar.

“Luka Modric, the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner, said before kick-off it was important to respect Morocco, describing their players as phenomenal and highly motivated – yet he struggled to impose himself in a Croatia side that appears to be regressing.

“Their best moments predictably hinged on Modric, who was given the freedom of the park, floating effortlessly from back to front, with football’s traditional midfield roles seeming not applying to Croatia’s captain. He dropped deeper and deeper to get onto the ball but Croatia lacked spark.

“At 37, Modric remains a maestro in the Real Madrid midfield. He pledged he would bow out of the game if Croatia win the World Cup, but there was little indication from this stalemate to suggest that eventuality is likely.”

Premier League watch: Hakim Ziyech

Hakim Ziyech's influence waned

Walid Regragui replaced Vahid Halilhodzic as Morocco head coach only three months ago and one of his first missions was to recall Ziyech to the national side. There were rare glimpses of quality, however, from the Chelsea midfielder before he faded.

Chelsea’s Ziyech was involved in 50 per cent of Morocco’s eight attempts against Croatia, having two shots and creating two chances for his team-mates.

Opta stats – Goals still eluding Morocco

Croatia's Ivan Perisic vies for the ball with Morocco's Hakim Ziyech
Image: Perisic vies for the ball with Morocco’s Ziyech
  • Morocco have failed to score in 53% of their World Cup matches (9/17), the joint-highest percentage of any nation to have played in more than 10 games in the competition.
  • As well as becoming Croatia’s oldest ever player to feature in the World Cup (37y 75d), Luka Modric became the first player to appear in both the European Championship and World Cup across three different decades.
  • At 20 years and 304 days, Croatia defender Josko Gvardiol became the youngest player on record (since 1966) to complete at least 100 passes in a single World Cup match (103).

What does the result mean?

Group F also contains a Belgium side ranked second in the world and a Canada team playing in their first World Cup since 1986. Those two nations face each other later on Wednesday in the other game on matchday one.

Croatia face Canada on Sunday November 27; kick-off 4pm. Victory could secure their progress to the round of 16.

Morocco take on Belgium earlier on the same day at 1pm knowing they too could take a big step towards qualification with three points.

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