(MENAFN- The Peninsula) chinthana wasala |
Doha: Croatia's Luka Modric made history for his country by becoming the oldest player ever to take part in a FIFA World Cup match, but the 37-year-old and his team-mates couldn't save the Russia 2018 finalists from getting off to a stuttering start four years later when they shared points in a 0-0 draw against a spirited Morocco side yesterday.
Despite being able to gain the better portion of ball possession in the Group F clash, the Zlatco Dalic's men failed to live up to expectation while Morocco succeeded in doing what they were aiming to do at a packed Al Bayt Stadium – to hold the European side from scoring.
Morocco fared well in holding the Croatians back, while the action mainly revolved around the battle for midfield supremacy. The only time Croatia came close to taking the lead was in the latter part of the first half, when Nikola Vlasic's low shot was saved by Morocco's custodian Yassine Bounou.
Upon return to action following the breather, Morocco intensified their efforts. Bayern Munich's left back Noussair Mazraoui saw his header blocked by Croatian goal keeper Dominik Livakovic as the game crawled into what would eventually be a goalless stalemate.
The single point earned was enough to satisfy the Moroccan coach Walid Regragui who assumed national duty just three months before the World Cup.
“Our goal was to live for another day as defeat in the first match ends your hopes in the competition,” Regragui said after the match.
“We did our best, the goal was not to lose. I've only been here for two months and I'm proud of the players. We wanted to achieve another result, but in the end we are satisfied with the draw,” Regragui said.
Regragui was elated with the support of the massive support Moroccan fans in the stadium.
“We feel that we are home, and I am happy to be in Qatar and the Moroccan and Arab fans in the stands supported us and gave us strength when we felt tired,” Regragui, who spent a season at Qatar Stars League side Al Duhail, said after yesterday's game.
“We will wait for the outcome of the Belgium match, and then we will look to qualify for the Last 16 against Canada,” he said.
On the other hand, his opposite number – Dalic said the result is not a disappointment.
“This is a team that has high values and competence. This result against Morocco was not a disappointment and proved that this is going to be a difficult tournament,” he said.
The Croatian team has been rejuvenated since last World Cup, with a changes being made around the experienced core of Modric, Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic as Dalic, who coached the team in Russia, called it a whole new team.
“This is a whole other team, four years have passed since the last World Cup and we have virtually a new national team. We cannot draw comparisons between the two generation of players. (However) We should have gone forward more but we were scared of being caught on the counterattack. A bit of courage was missing on our side,” the 56-year-old tactician said.
Captain Modric admitted the side lacked the usual sharpness, but they have now set the primary target to qualify for the knockout stage while trying to emulate their heroics of the 2018 tournament.
“It was a difficult game, especially in the first 15 minutes but I thought we were much the better team in the second half. Our defence was particularly strong but missed something upfront. I think if we had been a little sharper in attack we could have opened them up a bit more,” Modric, who inspired Croatia's impressive run to the 2018 final, said.
“We haven't come here just to compete. On the basis of our Russian experience we have ambitions to do the same or even better but even before that tournament we said let's first set a primary objective of getting past the group stage.”
“We know that once we get into the knockout rounds we can be a very dangerous opponents. We have greater goals here, don't misunderstand me,” Modric said after the match.
Croatia, who lost 4-2 to France in the final in Russia, will take on Canada on Sunday, while Morocco will have another task ahead when they meet title-seeking Belgium on December 1.