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Arab Spring continues as Morocco hold World Cup finalists Croatia for a draw

Sports desk, Nov 23: The opening didn’t go well for the Arab countries in Qatar World Cup 2022. Hosts Qatar lost to Ecuador by two goals to nil. But Saudi Arabia caused one of the historic upsets in World Cup history and began what seems to be a brilliant fightback from the Arab countries after that.

Saudi Arabia did begin the Arab Spring, one may say. The Saudis, the second-lowest ranked team at the World Cup and coached by former Morocco boss Herve Renard, beat Lionel Messi’s Argentina 2-1 to deliver one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history. Tunisia followed them and held Denmark for a goalless draw on Monday.

And now Morocco are 10 places below 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia in the world rankings. Before the match, Morocco’s coach Walid Regragui said that Saudi’s win over Argentina inspired them and they wanted to do something similar against Croatia.

“I watched the Saudi Arabia game earlier – 31% possession and they had three shots on target, but they won against Argentina, against the best player in history,” Regragui said ahead of the Croatia clash.

“If Croatia doesn’t allow us to have full possession tomorrow, OK, then we need to be very strong at the back. If they decide to give us that playing time, then we need to know exactly what we’re doing with the ball when we have it,” he added.

Morocco captain Romain Saiss said the Saudi win proved once again that anything was possible in football.

“When you see the result (Saudi Arabia) were able to have against one of the favourites it gets your creative juices flowing,” he added.

“It whets our appetite.”

Moroccan fans were in high spirits as they mingled with Croatian fans outside the stadium on Wednesday. Even the fans in the stands were getting worked up as kickoff drew near.

Despite their best efforts, the crowd could not spark their team to victory in a game where scoring opportunities were scarce, leading to their third consecutive scoreless draw at this World Cup.

In the match, Both Luka Modric of Croatia and Achraf Hakimi of Morocco, two of the best players in their respective countries, turned in solid performances with brief bursts of brilliance in Wednesday’s match. Despite the upbeat atmosphere outside, in which Moroccan and Croatian fans danced together, neither team scored, and the game ended in a scoreless draw.

Croatia’s best moments predictably hinged on Luka Modric, who was given the freedom of the park, floating effortlessly from back to front, with football’s traditional midfield roles seeming not to apply to the captain.

One minute he was patrolling in front of his back four, the next hanging off the shoulder of Andrej Kramaric up front, but always looking to open up the North Africans, whether he was hovering at right-back or hunting further forward.

Morocco looked principally to Hakim Ziyech for inspiration. The Chelsea winger, who was recalled to the squad following the recent appointment of coach Walid Regragui, was their most dangerous attacking outlet in the early stages. However, his good work lacked an end product.

There were glimpses of goal for both sides, with Nikola Vlasic going close for Croatia at the end of the first half while Noussair Mazraoui had a header saved for Morocco.

The Croats, beaten by France in the 2018 final in Moscow, had the better of the chances, with Dejan Lovren having an effort cleared off the line and Nikola Vlasic’s close shot saved by the legs of Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.

Both sides battled for midfield supremacy in a low-action match. Yassine Bounou saved Vlasic’s low shot late in the first half.

Morocco had raucous penalty appeals waved away after Sofiane Boufal’s shot appeared to hit Dejan Lovren’s arm, and Mazraoui’s header was saved by Dominik Livakovic.

Sofyan Amrabat blocked Lovren’s slide-in attempt moments later, but that was about it for Croatia until Josko Gvardiol’s 80th-minute header.

Morocco were perhaps the better side in the second half, but for all their efforts their only other chance of note was Achraf Hakimi’s swerving shot from distance that was punched away by Livakovic.

The two sides will likely be happy with a point from a match in which there really was nothing to separate them, with both having seven attempts at goal and just two on target.

Despite it being a draw, Moroccan fans were in good spirits after the game, even if they lost energy in the last few minutes and made a lot of noise after the whistle blew.

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