Croatia’s bid to emulate their World Cup exploits of four years ago began in stuttering fashion with a frustrating Group F stalemate against Morocco.
The 2018 runners-up controlled possession at Al Bayt Stadium but lacked a cutting edge in a forgettable 0-0 draw against opposition with just two World Cup victories in their history.
Nikola Vlasic went close to an opener in first-half added time, while Noussair Mazraoui and Achraf Hakimi threatened winners for Morocco in the second period.
The result leaves both sides with hope of reaching the knockout stages – albeit with plenty to do – in a group also containing Belgium and Canada.
Croatia’s starting XI contained five players who were involved in their 4-2 World Cup final defeat to France in Russia, including influential captain Luka Modric.
Manager Zlatko Dalic also remained from that match in Moscow and saw his side struggle to create in a tight, uninspiring opening period largely devoid of clear openings.
Tottenham’s Ivan Perisic lashed narrowly over from distance, while Chelsea forward Hakim Ziyech wastefully fired a well-positioned free-kick straight into the wall at the other end.
Croatia saved their best first-half attempts for added time.
Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was finally tested when he repelled a close-range poke from Vlasic with a thigh, before Modric smashed over just before the whistle.
Walid Regragui only took charge of the Atlas Lions three months before the tournament and was yet to see his new side concede a goal.
They remained resilient at the back after the restart and also improved from an attacking perspective, with Bayern Munich full-back Mazraoui, who was later stretchered off injured, seeing a header pushed away by Dominik Livakovic.
Paris St Germain defender Hakimi then had a superb long-range effort denied by Croatia keeper Livakovic after being teed up by Ziyech at a free-kick before the contest faded away into the third goalless draw in the competition’s last four games.
Croatia continue their campaign against Canada on Sunday afternoon, with Morocco facing Belgium earlier that day.
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