Croatia fell far short of expectations as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Morocco in their World Cup Group F opener on Wednesday.
Zlatko Dalic’s men, who finished runners-up four years ago, were strong favourites at Al Bayt Stadium but created few chances of note, with the stalemate handing Belgium the early initiative ahead of their clash with Canada.
Croatia were so outnumbered in the stands that they resembled an away team, but Morocco’s superior support did not translate into on-pitch dominance, and they were fortunate to be level at the break after Nikola Vlasic went close.
Dejan Lovren missed another good chance early in the second half, but Croatia failed to capitalize on their significantly higher share of possession.
Initially, Croatia struggled to cope with Morocco’s intensity, but the Atlas Lions lacked the quality to convert their bluster into meaningful chances.
In that regard, neither side was overjoyed.
Morocco were grateful for the intervention of goalkeeper Yassine Bounou on the stroke of half-time, who crucially blocked Vlasic’s prodded effort from point-blank range after Borna Sosa passed into the danger zone.
That was a preview of the better action to come early in the second half.
It started with Dominik Livakovic saving a header from Noussair Mazraoui, and a few minutes later Sofyan Amrabat made a crucial block to prevent Lovren from finding the bottom-left corner.
In the end, Morocco’s deep defense triumphed over Croatia’s brash attack, allowing them to hold on to a respectable point.
What does it imply? Croatia’s lack of teeth gives Belgium the upper hand.
Croatia were extremely disappointing here, but at least they did not suffer a shocking defeat.
After all, when Croatia loses their first World Cup game, things usually don’t go well: they’ve lost on matchday one in three of their previous five World Cup appearances, with the exceptions of 1998 and 2018, when they reached the semi-finals and final, respectively.
Nonetheless, Croatia is in a group that has always had the potential to be competitive. They will have wanted to avoid giving potential qualification rivals Belgium any assistance, but Roberto Martinez’s men already have the upper hand here.
Hakimi demonstrates his class
In reality, this was a match that was severely lacking in quality. Achraf Hakimi, on the other hand, stood out for his work rate and solidity, winning all three of his tackle attempts, producing a team-high three interceptions, and winning 10 of his 16 duel involvements – both match highs. As a result, Ivan Perisic became extremely quiet.
Modric is unable to elicit creativity.
Sosa was the only Croatian player to record a crucial pass. It revealed how lacking they were in the creative department. Luka Modric saw a lot of the ball, but it didn’t result in much – he was mysteriously named Player of the Match.
Important Opta Facts
- Croatia failed to score for the first time in 12 World Cup matches, dating back to their only other goalless draw in the competition in 2006 against Japan.
- Morocco has failed to score in 53% of their World Cup matches (9/17), the joint-highest percentage of any nation with more than ten games played in the competition.
- Three of the last four World Cup games have ended in a stalemate, more than the previous 73 games in the competition combined (2).
- At 45 minutes and 12 seconds, Croatia’s Nikola Vlasic’s saved attempt was the latest first shot on target in a 2022 World Cup match.
What comes next?
On Sunday, Morocco will face group favorites Belgium, while Croatia will face Canada.