Euro 2020 is creeping ever closer and Croatia head into the tournament looking to make the kind of run they did at the 2018 World Cup.
Since their first tournament in 1996, Croatia have been a near ever-present at the Euros but are yet to make it beyond the quarter-final stage. At Euro 2016, despite beating Spain to top their group, they fell to Portugal after extra-time. After that they were brilliant at the 2018 World Cup, reaching the final, and will want to carry that energy into 2020.
The best players Croatia are bringing to Euro 2020:
Goalkeeper: Dominik Livakovic
Danijel Subasic retired from international football after his heroics at the 2018 World Cup. Dominik Livakovic watched those performances from the sideline but now he’s stepped into a starting role and will be hoping to bring his Dinamo Zagreb performances through to Croatia. In the 11 games he played in the Europa League he kept an impressive six clean sheets.
Defence: Dejan Lovren
The self-proclaimed best defender in the world (circa 2018) is still the main man at the back for Croatia two years on from their World Cup run. Lovren is now playing for Zenit St. Petersburg who he has helped reach the top of the Russian Premier League.
Midfield: Luka Modric
Luka Modric was the main man in the Croatian midfield at the 2018 World Cup. Supported by Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Rakitic, the Real Madrid midfielder dominated games and drove his side above and beyond their limitations. His efforts that summer were so intense that, for 18 months after, the Croatian looked a spent force, as if he had exchanged all his footballing life force for that one shot at glory. But the break that delayed the Euros a year also helped Luka Modric re-find himself. Since football’s return Modric has been lights out and, despite being 35 years old, is Real Madrid and Croatia’s best midfielder once again. A talisman of two sides.
Attack: Ivan Perisic
With Mario Mandzukic retired, Croatia have taken to using Ivan Perisic as their most advanced forward. Occasionally Ante Rebic, Nikola Vlasic or Ante Budimir will also take that role but Perisic remains Croatia’s most prolific forward and they will be hoping that his displays as a wing-back for Inter Milan won’t have dulled his goalscoring instinct come summer.
The manager: Zlatko Dalic
Zlatko Dalic had a fairly nondescript coaching career prior to getting the national team job in 2017 but he immediately demonstrated that he had something about him by making success mandatory for staying in the job. First, he had to qualify for the World Cup, which he did. Then, thanks to his rigid organisation and excellent man management, Croatia drove all the way to the final.
Since then he has struggled to maintain the levels, understandably given the retirements and decline of some key players. “This is not the level of a year or two ago, this is our reality,” he said in an interview late last year. “This is the process of creating a new national team and I stand behind it.” Will he manage to create that new national team at Euro 2020? He has a lot of good pieces.
When they finished second in the 2018 World Cup, Croatia did so playing a 4-1-4-1 that relied on their three central midfielders (Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric) to control the tempo of the game while also protecting against counter-attacks with Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic both shuttling presences on the flanks.
Since then Dalic has experimented with different formations but it’s hard to see him not returning to the solidity of the 4-1-4-1 (or a slightly more offensive variant with the 4-2-3-1) at Euro 2020. Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida will, if fit, anchor the defence as they did in 2018.
The full-backs will be all new with Filip Uremovic likely to be the right-back while his great form for Rangers could give Borna Barisic the chance to address Croatia’s one area of weakness from 2018.
Midfield remains the key and you’d imagine Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric will take up the same roles they did at the World Cup with Ivan Rakitic being replaced by Mateo Kovacic. The Chelsea man is in a superb run of form under Thomas Tuchel and his all-around skill-set could make him an even better companion to Modric than Rakitic was.
Attack is a place of change. Perisic is a given and Ante Rebic might get a shot again but Nikola Vlasic, Andrej Kramaric and even Mislav Orsic are more in-form options for Dalic to choose from. Then there’s Mario Pasalic, whose involvement with the incredible Atalanta side has catapulted him right into Dalic’s thinking, making use of his size and skill as a sort of false No. 9.
The form guide
Euro 2020 Qualifying: WDWDWWLW
Croatia played well during their Euro 2020 qualification. They didn’t blow anyone away but they did finish top of their group while only losing once, a shock away defeat to Hungary. Their closest rivals Wales were beaten in Osijiek while the teams played out a 1-1 draw at Cardiff.
Recent fixtures: WWLLLDLWWLL
Croatia got back to winning ways with successive victories in their World Cup qualifiers in March. Their form in the Nations League and friendlies after qualifying for Euro 2020 was far less impressive with multiple losses to France and Portugal. In fact their only wins in that period came in a friendly against Switzerland and a narrow victory over Sweden secured by a very late goal.
Chances of winning:
Croatia aren’t among the favourites for this summer’s tournament, however they aren’t true outsiders either. Sky Bet have them at 33/1 to win Euro 2020, which is reasonable given the tournament savvy they displayed in Russia, grinding their way to the final through multiple extra time periods and penalty shootouts. And with Mateo Kovacic able to step in and play the same crucial defensive role that Rakitic did at the World Cup, Luka Modric’s ability to influence the tournament should remain as high as it was in 2018. And when Modric plays at that kind of level, all Croatia need to find is some goals.
(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)