By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | November 23, 2022
Croatia vs Morocco
Morocco played like champions in their opening Group F match with Croatia today. The score-line at the Al Bayt Stadium read 0-0 but there was ample evidence to show that the runners-up of last year’s World Cup in Russia were pushed to the wall, time and again.
For every Croatian who received the ball, three Moroccan players were crowding around him. In effect, Croatia was outnumbered playing against 33 Atlas Lions. Speed, agility, and an equal number in attack and defense was their hallmark. Moreover, they played a wide game making use of both the flanks and also piercing through the center, time and again.
Croatia is on the back foot
Croatia on the other hand relied heavily on their skipper Luka Modrić, who showed his brilliance with his attacking runs and deft slices into the box from either wing. Their fallout was that there was no one running into the rival box to receive the crosses. They were too focussed on midfield and defense. Playing the 4-1-2-3 formation, they failed to capitalize on the two behind the strikers to crowd the Moroccan defense, leaving the defenders a relatively easier job.
Croatia never read the game well and focussed only on the right wing the entire first half. Ivan Perišić their star player and the left winger was bottled. He moved to the right wing during most of the play in the second half but found the Moroccan defenders giving him hardly any room to run past them. They knew the strong link and had broken it.
Morocco had done their homework and had bottled every Croatian attack much before the start of the match at the drawing board itself. It was a chequered display by ‘The Chekered Ones’.
Croatia’s best chances came in the first half. First, in the 14th minute, a deft feint to wrong-foot the Moroccan defenders, and a measured clip into the box from the left by Luka Modrić found no Croatian hungry enough to pounce on the ball. Two minutes later, Perišić fired from outside 30 yards, only to see the ball sail over the crossbar. Seconds into the extra-time in the first half, Morroco’s goalkeeper Yassine Bounou denied Croatia twice within the same move, while in the dying seconds Luka Modrić pounced on a loose ball to fire over.
Croatia will have to up the ante… are they missing Ante Rebic?
Luka Modrić and his men next play Canada on Sunday, November 27, followed by Belgium on December 01. If Zlatko Dalić has to make an impact and inroads into the knock-out stages, he will have to go back to the drawing board quickly. He can pick up a thing or two from his counterpart Walid Regragui.
If you do not have enough men in the rival box to anticipate a ‘golden ball’, if you do not use the wings to spread the game and lob in the occasional floater, it’s difficult to break through any defense. These are the basics of soccer and these do not change. Croatia will have to up the ante… are they already missing Ante Rebic?
In the Croatia vs Morocco tie, Morocco showed what grit and young legs can do, just like Saudi Arabia against Argentina. At Doha, no team can be taken for granted. Group F is going to throw up some surprises.