Morocco named a side which saw two current Premier League players involved in Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech and West Ham’s Nayef Aguerd as well as two former Premier League players in former Southampton winger Sofiane Boufal and former Wolves defender Romain Saiss. They also named the PSG superstar right back in Achraf Hakimi who is another brilliant name in a side who could be one of the underdogs of the tournament with the talent on display.
There was former and current Premier League players in the Croatian side as well with Tottenham’s Ivan Perisic and Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic being named in the starting eleven. Former Spurs midfielder and Ballon D’or winner Luka Modric started with ex-Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren. Croatia would be delighted to match what they done in Russia four years ago when they lost the World Cup Final to France but only four players named for the opening game here where starting on that day in Moscow.
The opening exchanges were filled with a number of mistakes from Morocco costing them possession but they always recovered well to cut out any threat from Croatia. As the minutes went on and the game started to settle down, Morocco grew into the match more and more especially posing a huge threat with Hakimi and Ziyech down the right-hand side. However, Morocco were almost punished just sixteen minutes in for giving the ball away as Amallah gifted the ball to Perisic who took a shot from thirty yards out which whistled just inches over the crossbar.
After the opening half an hour, neither side had worked a golden opportunity but Morocco kept on pushing forward and the only chances that Croatia were having came at the expense of Morocco giving the ball away. Croatia were sitting a lot deeper and waiting to play on the counterattack as they struggled to get their game going against a fired up Moroccan side.
However, it was Croatia who came closest to scoring just before half time as Sosa put a brilliant low cross into the box and Vlasic turned it goal wards from inside the six-yard box but Bono was equal to it as the first half ended with the game goalless. Croatia had the best opportunities of the half, especially towards the end of it, but Morocco just looked like if they could find the finishing touch then they would be dangerous and probably ahead.
Morocco had their first opportunity just five minutes into the second half as a deflected shot found its way through to Mazraoui from the angle who attempted to header it back across goal but it was saved from close range by Livakovic. They then had another brilliant chance from a free kick just after the hour mark as Ziyech laid it off to Hakimi who struck one from about thirty yards out. It was moving all over the place as Livakovic pushed it to safety but Morocco had now starting backing up their good play with promising opportunities and chances.
Croatia’s first and only real chance of the second half came as Luka Modric delivered a beautiful cross into the area which looked destine to land on a Croatian head but was expertly cleared over the cross bar by the Moroccan striker En-Nesyri who found himself being the hero at the other end of the pitch.
A game which is the first half was full of energy, chances and end to end football at times died off heavily in the second half. After Morocco’s early burst in the first fifteen minutes of the second half, the game looked destine for a goalless draw as both sides struggled to get control of the match.
Croatia will have to up their performance levels if they are going to get anywhere near their achievements of the last World Cup four years ago. Morocco will take some positives from today and they looked good in a game when their opponents were fancied very well. They just need to make the most of their chances and get into better positions for when Ziyech and Hakimi deliver into the area.
Both sides will play again on Sunday afternoon as Morocco take on Belgium at 1pm before Croatia take on Canada afterwards at 4pm.