Morocco, Croatia play out third World Cup stalemate

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Source: Sky Sports

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