After a disappointing showing in their U-17 World Cup opener against Morocco, where the mini Vatreni lost 3-1, Croatia rebounded Monday in a 1-0 victory over Panama. Dinamo’s ‘wunder-kind’ Alen Halilović captained the team and played the full 90 minutes; finishing his second match at the World Cup without scoring a goal. But in the 26th minute, Ante Roguljić would dribble into the box and get past three Panama defenders to lace a left-footed shot past the keeper and inside the right post. It would be the only goal of the match even though Panama pressed in the second half, forcing Croatian goalie Marko Marić to go down on a break away to make the save before needing the help of the crossbar to keep out a long range chip shot.
Bojan Knežević had a chance to double Croatia’s lead in the 2nd half with an absolute sitter tap-in in front of the goal but his nerves got the best of him as he mishit the ball. Croatia currently sit in 3rd place behind Morocco and Uzbekistan going into the group’s last game against the Uzbeki’s on October 24th, but remember, the best four 3rd placed teams also make it to the 16-team knockout round.
But the big question. Alen Halilović is being praised amongst Croatian media as being the next Messi, receiving playing time in Dinamo’s Champions League games and already being brought to the Croatian senior team in World Cup qualifying. But why all the hype if the kid at age 17 can’t even dominate at his own age group? You would think he could of rattled in at least one or two goals already. Let’s see if he wakes up as the tournament progresses.