By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | November 28, 2022
Moroccan magic, Croatian charm
Canada’s Alphonso Davies has a huge hand in waking up Croatia from their slumber and a deadbeat exhibition of the beautiful game of soccer. Sixty-eight seconds into their second Group F Game at the Khalifa International Stadium on Sunday, the fleet-footed Canadian forward tore through defenders Josip Juranovic and Dejan Lovren even before they had time to find their bearings to head home the first of Canada’s World Cup goals.
If Croatia had to make any match and keep their hopes for a place in the last 16 alive, they had to find the equalizer in the first half. They did better—they leveled the score and wiped off the deficit minutes before halftime.
Unlike their opener against Morocco where they played a timid, withdrawn game, this was soccer at its beautiful best on display by Croatia. They used both the flanks to stretch the game wide, lobbed in the long ball, and time and again found the Canadian box crowded with 5 Croatians hungry to pounce on a loose ball. Even their throw-ins into the box were focused on creating chances. Thus, they created ample scoring opportunities from which they capitalized four times.
Croatia unveil their champion side
The trio of Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric (who scored a brace), and Marko Livaja (one goal) time and again swooped into the Canadian box like hungry vultures. Livaja started the game in place of the injured Nikola Vlasic.
Ample clinical passes and support in the rival box by skipper Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, and Mateo Kovacic from the mid-field meant that the Canadian defenders had their hands full. Croatia had learned from their characterless display against Morocco and had upped their Ante!
In a relentless search for the equalizer, Croatia was denied twice within a space of 10 minutes. In the 25th minute, a Kramaric strike was ruled offside. Beating three defenders, the center-forward scored from a Modric-initiated move. VAR decided otherwise.
Ten minutes later, Livaja’s beautiful volley was parried by Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan. However, 59 seconds later Perisic feeds Kramaric who thumps in the equalizer. Eight minutes later, Juranovic takes a deep run into the rival half after a one-two with Kramaric on the right flank, misses the ball (on top of the box) to recover it a split second later to find Livaja who gives Croatia the lead.
In the 69th minute, Kramaric scores his second off a Perisic pass. Mislav Orsic who comes in for Perisic minutes before the final whistle shows selflessness as he takes the Canadian team by surprise with his speed, pouncing on a loose ball. With only Borjan to beat and a chance to add a goal to his name, he passes to his right to Lovro Majer substituted for Modric. It’s 4-1 for Croatia.
Canada had their chances too but Dominik Livakovic effected some superb saves to ensure a better goal aggregate for Croatia. In the stands, was former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović cheering on The Checkered Ones.
Group F, the Moroccan story
Group F has now three likely contenders for a passage into the last 16. Croatia, Morocco, and Belgium. With a healthier goal difference, Croatia with 4 points tops the group with Morocco (also 4 points). Croatia will have to win against Belgium to crossover. A draw may suffice but Zlatko Dalić will be hoping for an encore against the lackluster and pedestrian Belgium.
Morocco plays Canada next and the manner in which they Dominated Croatia and defeated Belgium with a brace means they are ready for 7 points. Their soccer has been complete: Swift, wide, inclusive, and intelligent. The goal off a free kick by Romain Saiss, with the ball curling into the goal from an impossible angle beating an experienced Thibaut Courtois has shown that The Atlas Lions have swing as well. A beauty from Hakim Ziyech off a free-kick from a similar angle was disallowed by VAR. I wonder how Saiss’s goal was allowed by VAR?
Morocco is the team to watch out for in the knock-out stages, they play complete soccer, a delight for the connoisseur.
Sofyan Amrabat and the Romelu Lukaku hug
Belgium is far from what they were in Russia in 2018 and the Euro Cup 2020, played last year. The team, in general, appears clueless when faced with a zippier opponent as was the case with Canada where they were lucky to win. Against Croatia, they face a team hungry for success and a forward line looking to slice through, if the match against Canada is anything to go by.
Canadian coach John Herdman can leave with his head held high. Methinks they have surpassed their expectations at this World Cup. They have a young, dynamic team and with experience on the World Stage, they will be a force to reckon with in the years to come.
The long hug between Belgium’s Lukaku and Morocco’s Sofyan Amrabat was indeed a calming sight after the tense rivalry on the field. Both players play in the Italian Serie A league—Lukaku for Inter Milan and Amrabat for Fiorentina. A draining match and the possibility of an exit from the World Cup in no way dampened Lukaku’s healthy respect for his Moroccan counterpart and friend. That is the beauty of sport. After a hard fight on the field of play, there should always be healthy camaraderie.