Morocco 0 – 0 Croatia
(Group F, Al Bayt Stadium, 23/11/2022)
Hakim Ziyech started for Morocco (FIFA ranking: 22). Mateo Kovacic lined up for the Croatia team (FIFA ranking: 18) that was much changed from the side that were beaten finalists in 2018. Only four of the team that started against France started here. Gvardiol, one of Croatia’s new generation of players, was linked with a move to Chelsea in the last transfer window and, perhaps, remains a target. Hakimi is a player that has been linked to a potential move to Chelsea in the past.
Before five minutes had elapsed, and deep in their own half, Morocco lost the ball when Ounahi failed to control Hakimi’s throw-in. Kovacic stepped in and pushed the ball into the box for Kramaric to run onto. Former Wolves defender Saiss snuffed out the attack conceding a corner. Kovacic touched the ball to Modric whose deep cross to the edge of the box was met by Gvardiol. His header went into a crowd of players. Morocco struggled to clear the ball in the scramble that followed. A half-clearance allowed Croatia to retrieve the ball but they were pressed into sending it back into midfield.
The next ten minutes or so saw passages of play that showed enterprise from both sides but which didn’t lead to clear-cut chances. First, for Morocco, Amrabat took the ball from Kovacic on the right just inside his own half. He passed to Ziyech who switched the play with a long ball out to the left. An interchange of four passes involving Boufal ended with Mazraoui finding Amallah on the edge of the box. He tried to find En-Nesyri near the penalty spot, but the pass was intercepted and the ball cleared. Then a long ball by Saiss found Boufal out on the left. He controlled the ball, beat Juranovic and ran towards the D. His deep cross found Hakimi who headed back to Ziyech. Ziyech beat the first defender and shot from the edge of the box. His shot was blocked, and the ball was initially cleared. Morocco won the ball back moving it out to the right to find Hakimi. He ran along the edge of the area to cross. A deflection off the first defender sent the ball into the arms of Livakovic at the near post.
Next Aguerd conceded a throw-in deep in his own half. Peresic took it, Kovacic returned his pass, Peresic played it to Modric who overhit the cross which was recovered by Mazraoui. A little later, a poor pass by Amallah went straight to Peresic in a central position mid-way inside the Moroccan half. He took the ball on and shot from about 35 yards out. The rising ball dipped at the last moment and probably only went around a foot over. The best effort yet and closer than it first looked.
After seventeen minutes a poor back pass by Sosa put Lovren under pressure. His hurried clearance gave Morocco a throw-in on the left towards the corner flag. Ziyech, close to the corner flag, received the throw returning it to Hakimi. He played the ball inside to Ounahi who passed to Ziyech close to where the throw was first taken. Ziyech passed into Hakimi on the edge of the box and took the return ball near the corner of the area. His teasing cross, bending towards the far post, just evaded En-Nesyri coming in between two defenders. A good passage of play – Morocco’s, and the game’s, best chance thus far. Could En-Nesryri have done better? It could be said that he had missed the header. Shortly after, Ounahi played the ball forward to Boufal. His shot was deflected back to Ounahi in a little space. He was tackled and the ball was cleared. Morocco recovered it and Amrabat hit a cross-field pass to Hakimi. He moved it on to Ounahi who returned the pass. Hakimi cut inside, beat the first defender and was fouled by Modric. A free kick in a central position and just outside the D; Hakimi and Ziyech over the ball. Ziyech went for goal but only hit the wall. The ball was cleared only as far as Amrabat who lofted the ball back towards the box. After a brief exchange of possession, a long clearance found Kramaric out on the right. He ran to the edge of the box and tried to square it. Mazraoui beat Vlasic to the ball conceding a corner. The Croatian set piece was unproductive.
Around five minutes later, a great long ball launched by Ziyech from just inside his own half was controlled by Hakimi by the corner flag. Running through the first tackle his progress was stopped by Sosa. Replays showed that the ball had gone out for a goal kick. Within a minute or so of that, a long diagonal ball into the box from the left found El Nesyri whose good run lost Lovren for a moment. Unfortunately, he turned away from the goal, making the shot more difficult as well as allowing Lovren time to make a recovering challenge.
A little over five minues before half-time, Ziyech rolled diagonal ball into Ounahi whose attempt to return it was misdirected and cut out. Then Modric, trying to run out with the ball, collided with Hakimi, lost the ball and pulled the Moroccan’s shirt conceding a foul. No end product from the Ziyech free kick. Three minutes later, a long diagonal ball from deep, hit by Saiss, was headed clear and recovered by Morocco, ending up with Hakimi. He passed to Ziyech who attempted to find Ounahi in the area with a pass hit with the outside of his foot. Gvardiol was strong enough to fend off the Moroccan and see the ball out.
The last minute of normal time saw the game’s first attempt on target. A long ball was aimed at Kramaric on the edge of the box. Bono rushed out to clear and collided with the Croatian striker sending him to ground. With the forward still claiming a foul, Croatia won the the ball moving it cross-field to Peresic who moved it straight on to the overlapping Sosa. He sent the ball across the area. Vlasic stole in trying to slide the ball in at the near post. The effort was saved by Bono.
Overall, the half, and Croatia, had been a little disappointing. The fact that Croatia hadn’t settled was a tactical victory for the Moroccans whose pressing had stifled their midfielders. Ziyech looked lively and sharp when on the ball. It was anticipated that he and Hakimi would link up well and that had certainly been the case. Morocco had much the better of play in the final third and looked much likelier to score, yet the best chance had fallen to Croatia.
In the first five minutes of the second half Morocco pushed Croatia back. At the end of that period Boufal received the ball in a central position midway into the Croatia half, advanced and shot from distance. The ball hit Lovren with the Moroccans claiming a penalty. The deflected ball was prevented from going out of play by Mazraoui running in from the left. His diving header was saved by the keeper before the ball was cleared. There was no VAR intervention. Presumably Lovren was just outside the box.
Having struggled to get out or their own half up to then, Croatia launched an attack a minute later. A long diagonal ball from Modric found Juranovic wide on the left. He crossed to the far post forcing Hakimi had to head clear with other attackers closing in. A critical intervention. The corner was flicked on at the near post by Peresic. Gvardiol went up with the keeper with the ball ricocheting to Lovren who turned it goalward. Standing just in front of the post, Amrabat blocked the ball. The game was stopped while Bono and Gvardiol received attention.
The next twenty minutes saw few notable passages of play. For Morocco, Hakimi played the ball to Ziyech just short of halfway. His clever flick the defender who had continued running. Hakimi sprinted forward to cross into the box. A deflection took the ball away from both defenders and attackers alike, ending up with Attiat-Allah on the far side. His cross was also deflected, dropping into the keeper’s arms just evading the incoming Amallah. A foul on Amallah gave Morocco a free kick level with the left edge of the 6-yard box just over 30 yards out. Hakimi and Ziyech stood over the ball again. Ziyech touched the ball to Hakimi to strike powerfully at goal. The ball went straight at the keeper who punched it away. Later, Croatia won a free kick after Ezzalzouli fouled Juranovic. Modric delivered a free kick perfectly flighted into the zone between the goal line and penalty spot forcing En-Nesyri to put the ball out over his own bar. Another critcal intervention. Modric took the corner which was headed back out to Livaja. He chipped the ball to the far post where it was headed away fairly comfortably by Aguerd. Modric took the corner. It went too close to Bono who claimed it easily. Bono’s quick throw sent Ezzazouli sprinting towards the Croatian goal. He tried to cut inside just outside the box and ran into a couple of defenders who crowded him out.
With a little under fifteen minutes left, the game’s first and only yellow card was shown to Amrabat following a bad foul on Modric. The game had started to fizzle out by that time and the rest of the game was uneventful. Kovacic was replaced by Majer after seventy-seven minutes.
Ziyech seemed to fade out of the game in the last thirty minutes. However, all the substitutions appeared to change the balance of the Moroccan side in the latter stages – they were attacking down the left much more than they had done in the first half.
It seemed as if the game was being played by two teams unwilling to take the risk of jeopardizing their progress by losing their first match. The Belgians must be expected to go through but who goes with them is not so easy to predict.
Posted by the CSG’s World Cup Willie