World Cup: Stuttering Croatia held by Morocco in goalless stalemate

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – Group F – Morocco v Croatia – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar – November 23, 2022 Croatia’s Josko Gvardiol in action with Morocco’s Yahya Attiat-Allah and Selim Amallah REUTERS/Marko Djurica

AL KHOR, Qatar—Croatia’s World Cup campaign got off to a stuttering start with a 0-0 draw against a battling Morocco on Wednesday as the 2018 runners-up lacked the punch and guile of the side that went so close in Russia.

Chances were at a premium at Al Bayt Stadium as an even Group F contest produced little goalmouth action and ended in the third goalless draw in nine games at the World Cup so far.

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There were glimpses for both sides, with Nikola Vlasic going close for Croatia at the end of the first half while Noussair Mazraoui had a header saved for Morocco, but nobody could find the breakthrough as the mercury soared on an energy-sapping afternoon.

Croatia, which was beaten 4-2 by France in the final four years ago, will now turn their attentions to their game against Canada on Sunday, when Morocco will face Belgium. Canada and Belgium face off later on Wednesday.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic was far from downcast with how his side had performed, with his only criticism that they lacked bravery to take more of the fight to their opponents.

“We were very cautious not to make a mistake and were a bit indecisive,” he said. “I might say a bit of courage was missing on our side… but today Croatia had control and possession but not enough opportunities.”

Croatia’s best moments predictably hinged on Luka Modric, who was given the freedom of the park, floating effortlessly from back to front, with football’s traditional midfield roles seeming not to apply to Croatia’s captain.

One minute he was patrolling in front of his back four, the next hanging off the shoulder of Andrej Kramaric up front, but always looking to open up the North Africans, whether he was hovering at right back or hunting further forward.