Croatia’s World Cup campaign got off to a stuttering start with a 0-0 draw against a battling Morocco, as the 2018 runners-up lacked the punch of the side that reached the final in Russia four years ago.
Outside Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday, Morocco fans were in high spirits as they mingled with Croatia supporters. And as kickoff approached, the atmosphere in the stands reached a fever pitch.
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However, the fans would fail to inspire action on the pitch in a game where chances were at a premium and ended in the third goalless draw in nine games at the World Cup so far.
There were glimpses of a potential goal 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.
Croatia’s best moments predictably hinged on Luka Modric, who was given free run, floating effortlessly from back to front, with football’s traditional midfield roles seeming not to apply to the 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.
Morocco looked principally to Hakim Ziyech for inspiration. The Chelsea winger, who was recalled to the squad following the recent appointment of coach Walid Regragui, was their most dangerous attacking outlet in the early stages. However, his good work lacked an end product.
While the encounter was low on action, it was at least high on intensity as both sides battled for midfield supremacy. Still, the first half ended with neither goal really threatened until the closing moments when Yassine Bounou saved Vlasic’s low effort.
There was more action in the first five minutes of the second half when Morocco had raucous appeals for a penalty waved away after Sofiane Boufal’s shot appeared to hit Dejan Lovren’s arm, seconds before Mazraoui’s header was saved by Dominik Livakovic.
Moments later, Lovren’s effort on the slide at the other end was blocked by Sofyan Amrabat, but that was about as good as it got for Croatia until centre-back Josko Gvardiol’s header went wide in the 80th minute.
Despite the draw, Moroccan fans were in good spirits after the game, even if they lost some energy in the last minutes and made a lot of noise when the whistle blew.
Many remained in the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium and continued to chant Ole Ole Ole Ole and Hayya Hayya. Modric, who was just announced man of the match on the big screen, received a huge jeer from the Moroccans, as he did for most of the game.
“I wanted a win badly,” Morocco fan Mohammaed El Yamiq, 42, from Mohammadiya near Casablanca, told Al Jazeera.
“It was very much a boring game … but this will do for now. It is a good booster for us when we play with others in the group,”
Croatia will now turn their attention to their game against Canada on Sunday when Morocco will face Belgium.