Modric magic in vain as Croatia lack attacking firepower in Morocco draw

Modric magic in vain as Croatia lack attacking firepower in Morocco draw
Modric magic in vain as Croatia lack attacking firepower in Morocco draw
Modric magic in vain as Croatia lack attacking firepower in Morocco draw
Few have fancied Croatia to repeat their odds-defying 2018 run to the World Cup final in Qatar, but one hurdle they were definitely expected to clear was their opening group game against Morocco on Wednesday.

Only four players from the defeat to France in the final started on Wednesday after coach Zlatko Dalic's rebuild fused Croatia's experienced core of Luka Modric (37), Marcelo Brozovic (30) and Ivan Perisic (33) with a talented new generation led by Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic.

However, their desperate lack of a reliable goalscorer is a problem that has existed since Mario Mandzukic's retirement four years ago and was laid bare again at the Al Bayt Stadium in a cagey stalemate against a resolute Morocco side.

"This is another tournament, four years have passed (and) we have almost a whole new national team with new players. You cannot draw a comparison," Dalic told reporters.

"But 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 added.

Midfield maestro Modric was unable to dictate play as much as he normally would but he still drifted tirelessly all over the pitch and picked his moments to inject some urgency into his team's attack.

Modric pass map vs Morocco

"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," said the playmaker, a former Ballon d’Or winner and inspiration behind their unexpected run to the final in 2018.

"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 objections 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," he told the post-match news conference.

Dalic did however bemoan his side’s approach. "We should have gone forward more but we were a scare of being caught on the counterattack. A bit of courage was missing on our side."

Croatia dominated possession and did not look flustered under pressure from Morocco, patiently biding their time before springing to life in the first half stoppage time and went closest through Nikola Vlasic's toe-poked effort.

The midfielder was replaced at halftime due to an apparent injury, however, and Croatia again made a slow start while Morocco emerged the better side in the second half, but the contest was largely played in the middle third of the pitch.

Croatia had netted 21 goals during their World Cup qualifying campaign but Modric, Perisic and Pasalic top-scored with three goals each in the absence of a dependable centre forward.

Next up was Andrej Kramaric (31) with two, but goals have dried up for the Hoffenheim forward in the Bundesliga this season, while Bruno Petkovic is less prolific and has been inconsistent since the European Championship.

Finding a solution to their attacking woes will be crucial for Dalic despite their success in Russia, as Croatia did not win a knockout game in the last tournament and needed extra-time twice to progress to the showdown with France.

Croatia are perennially slow starters at soccer's showpiece tournament, having lost the opening game in three of their previous five appearances - the exceptions being 1998 and 2018, when they finished third and runner-up, respectively.

To get there again, they will need to find a clinical edge against Canada and then second-ranked Belgium in their other games but after firing blanks against Morocco, bookmakers will feel vindicated in having them as outsiders in Qatar.


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