North African side Morocco, playing in their first FIFA U-17 World Cup, pulled off a sensational 3-1 win over fancied Croatia in their first Group C game in Fujairah. Karim Achahbar out-shined pre-tournament golden boy Alen Halilovic on the day, scoring a pair of goals in an historic win for the Atlas Lion Cubs.
Croatia started sharpest in the early moments, their well-publicised prodigy Halilovic of Sparta Prague popping up all over the pitch to keep the Moroccan defence on their toes. After just seven minutes, Halilovic – who recently became the youngest player ever capped by Croatia’s senior side – slipped into the area to get on the end of nice through ball. His effort on goal couldn’t match the approach work and bounced off the outside of the post from an admittedly tight angle.
But that was all the nominal favourites had to offer in the first-half, as Morocco picked the Europeans apart. Dangerous on the break, the African first-timers also have an elegant finisher in young Karim Achahbar. The striker from French club side Guingamp struck his first after 27 minutes when he slammed the ball into the roof of the net from a neat pulled-back pass. He repeated the dose 13 minutes later as the Croats looked frail in the back and unable to effectively clear their lines. A clever bit of interplay between Walid Sabbar and Omar Arjoune picked out Achahbar alone in front of goal, where he made no mistake.
Nabil Jaadi made it 3-0 at the break when he raced straight up the right side and slammed the ball into the top corner of the net, with hardly any resistance from the Croatian rearguard.
After what was likely an animated team talk from Croatia coach Ivan Gudelj, a former international with Yugoslavia, the blue-clad side showed a little more industry in the second-half. They pulled a goal back after 59 minutes when Halilovic picked up the ball in midfield and started a play that filtered through Frane Vojkovic and up to Robert Muric, who slipped past his marker and finished off with aplomb.
That was all the Croatians had to offer, and they were lucky it didn’t end worse when Younes Bnou Marzouk rounded the keeper only to hit inexplicably wide of the open net. Morocco face Uzbekistan next on 21 October in Fujairah hoping to keep up their rampaging start, while Croatia look to revive their faltering campaign against Central American side Panama.