By Aeden Evenson-McDermott
As the World Cup group stages got underway across Qatar, Croatia would be back on their path for the quest of World Cup glory following 2018’s heartbreak.
In their opening fixture on November 23, Croatia would be featured against their first opponent Morocco. They would combine for many chances as would Morocco, but none could find the back of the net. No exciting drama of many goals, but a good defensive battle put on.
Croatia’s Nikola Vlašić and Morocco’s Noussair Mazraoui would each share glorious opportunities in the first half especially. Croatian captain Luka Modrić at times was able to move freely but also at other times was limited in his ability to switch the field and dominate the midfield.
The second half would be much like the first half in many ways with both sides going back and forth up and down the field.
Croatia and Morocco would be held to a scoreless draw of 0-0 at the end of the 90 minutes earning each side a point going into the second match day.
On November 27, Croatia took on Canada in a thriller game. Canada’s Alphonso Davies scored an immaculate thumper of a header into Croatia’s net with just 68 seconds on the clock. It would be the fastest goal of this year’s World Cup. Canada’s brief joy spell would only last a short while until Croatia’s Andrej Kramarić would score a nice equalizer in the 36th minute! 1-1!
Both teams played quite competitively in the first half but signs showed Croatia was in the driver’s seat and was becoming more dominant in the control of the game. Just before half, Croatia’s Marko Livaja scored a beautiful goal too and Croatia would take the lead just before the halftime break!
In addition, it’s also important to note that going into this game, it was all or nothing for Canada, as if they lost they would be out of the World Cup. Canada’s coach John Herdman made some not so nice remarks about how they would beat Croatia but as you will see later in the article, his words reversed on him and Canada bared the words he said.
Into the second half, both teams came out strong and poised to go at it for the second 45 minutes of the match. Canada had some opportunities along the wings and were close to equalizing, but when Kramarić bagged his second goal in the 70th minute, it extinguished all hopes of a Canada survival.
In the closing stages of the game, a miscue by Canada allowed for Croatia’s Mislav Oršić to dish off the ball to Lovro Majer which essentially put the nail in the coffin when Majer slammed the ball under the crossbar through Milan Borjan’s arms.
An exciting game as Croatia would gather an additional 3 points which would bring them to 4 points in total going into match day 3!
On December 1, Croatia would match up against Belgium for the final group stage game. It would be the true test and final installment to see who would advance, or who would be leaving and be on their flight home, the following day.
The stage was set and both teams were focused on the match. Croatia had an early opportunity for a penalty but was reviewed by the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) and therefore was deemed offside because of the Croatia player’s hand being over the line.
In my honest opinion, I thought it was a takedown of the Croatia player for the penalty originally but now with FIFA’s advancement on VAR technology the player’s hand was offside but still a debatable topic.
Croatia would have some glorious opportunities of their own with captain Luka Modrić racking up some shots on goal.
Belgium in the second half though would have many incredible opportunities to put Croatia out and Belgium through, but none could see the net. Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku was the main man on many of the chances.
Croatia would survive the pummeling of shots late and would be relieved when the final whistle was blown at the end of the 90 minutes!
Belgium and Canada would come up short and be eliminated from the World Cup as Croatia, and first place Morocco, would advance.
A lot to take in for Belgium’s supposed “Golden Generation” as they failed to compete and win a major trophy again. The coach, Roberto Martinez, would also resign and step down following the game.
Croatia plays Japan for the Round of 16 Match on December 5, while Morocco plays Spain the following day December 6.
The World Cup excitement is only just beginning and there will be plenty more content left to come!