Morocco yesterday held Croatia to a 0-0 draw in their opening game of the FIFA World Cup, producing a spirited display against the 2018 runners-up led by Luka Modric.
Backed by Qatar’s large Moroccan community at the Al-Bayt Stadium, the Atlas Lions followed up north African rivals Tunisia’s strong performance against dark horses Denmark a day earlier to frustrate Croatia.
“This was an extremely difficult game,” Croatia captain Modric said. “I do believe as the tournament goes on we’ll be better and we’ll adopt a more proactive attitude.”
Modric said Croatia are capable of making another deep run despite a sluggish start in the early afternoon heat.
“We’ve not come here to just play and get out the group,” Modric said. “Our ambitions are a bit greater on the basis of our Russia [World Cup] achievement, but we need to take it one step at a time.”
Coach Zlatko Dalic had urged Croatia to exercise caution following Saudi Arabia’s shock win over Argentina, a result Morocco captain Romain Saiss said had “opened the door” for the tournament’s less-fancied teams.
Morocco took the game to a Croatia side featuring four players who started the 2018 final, but struggled to create genuine chances against a defense marshalled by the experienced Dejan Lovren.
Azzedine Ounahi strangely opted against shooting when well-placed inside the area, with Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi heavily involved down the right without ever truly threatening Croatia.
Ivan Perisic fired just over the goals for Croatia after intercepting a dreadful pass from Selim Amallah, while goalkeeper Yassine Bounou blocked well to deny Nikola Vlasic from close range.
Modric, the former Ballon d’Or winner appearing at his fourth World Cup at the age of 37, then hammered over from the edge of the box.
Morocco lost Noussair Mazraoui early in the second half after his diving header was saved, the Bayern Munich full-back injuring himself when he tumbled to the ground.
Sofyan Amrabat poked Lovren’s goal-bound effort away off the line after a scramble at a corner, while Hakimi’s free-kick at the other end was beaten to safety by Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Croatia pushed for a late winner, but found Morocco’s defense in unforgiving mood as Walid Regragui’s side secured a valuable and deserved point.
FRANCE V AUSTRALIA
Olivier Giroud on Tuesday joined Thierry Henry as France’s all-time leading goalscorer with a brace as the holders roared back to beat Australia 4-1 and get their defense of the FIFA World Cup off to a flying start.
Australia took a shock lead at Al-Janoub Stadium in Qatar with the game just 9 minutes in when Craig Goodwin scored. France, whose buildup to the tournament was marred by injuries, saw leftback Lucas Hernandez come off hurt in the move that led to the goal.
However, they recovered to equalize through Adrien Rabiot before Giroud put them ahead with an easy finish in the 32nd minute for his 50th international goal.
Kylian Mbappe got his name on the scoresheet in the second half and Giroud sealed the win to equal Henry’s record tally of 51 goals for France.
“It is nice to score four goals, even if we could have had more, and it’s a really good start for us,” France coach Didier Deschamps said.
At the age of 36, veteran AC Milan striker Giroud, who has 115 caps, is the oldest player to score for France at a World Cup. Yet he almost certainly would not have been playing here had Karim Benzema been fit.
“He deserves respect for performing at the very highest level for so many years and delivering even when nobody seemed to believe in him,” teammate Benjamin Pavard said. “I am so pleased for him because he is a great guy. I hope he keeps going and beats more records.”
MEXICO V POLAND
Robert Lewandowski suffered fresh FIFA World Cup misery on Tuesday as the Poland striker’s penalty was saved in a 0-0 draw against Mexico.
Lewandowski has never scored at a World Cup, and the Barcelona striker had said it would be a “huge dream” to finally get off the mark on the global stage.
Instead, the 34-year-old’s dream turned into a bit of a nightmare when he won a second-half penalty, only for goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to keep out his tame effort.
“I didn’t score, that sure hurts,” Polish media quoted him as saying. “It’s a penalty, a lottery, you can’t explain it.”
Lewandowski, Poland’s record scorer with 76 goals, has netted 18 times in 19 appearances for Barcelona, the club he joined in the close season after bagging 344 goals in eight trophy-filled years at Bayern Munich.
DENMARK V TUNISIA
Tunisia held Denmark to a goalless draw in their FIFA World Cup opener on Tuesday, kicking off their Group D campaign with a strong performance against one of the pre-tournament dark horses.
Tunisia have never reached the World Cup knockouts in five previous attempts, but Jalel Kadri’s side is likely to be encouraged by gaining a point at Education City Stadium and how they performed against the fancied Danes.
Since Kadri took charge of the team in January, Tunisia have only lost to Brazil and they frustrated Denmark in front of thousands of noisy North Africans.
Christian Eriksen was largely anonymous on his return to major tournament soccer after nearly dying on the pitch at the UEFA Euro 2020 last year, wilting in the face of ferocious defending.
He was the target of a big tackle in the second minute from Aissa Laidouni, who then leaped to his feet and egged on the fans to make even more noise and setting the tone for hard battle.
“This is the World Cup. This is not a small competition, it’s the most important competition in the world,” Laidouni told reporters. “I think it’s important to come on the pitch and show determination, also with the fans we have here in Qatar. It [their support] is amazing and it’s also important to show them that we are so determined.”
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