Euro 2020 is underway and Croatia are through to the knockouts, 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 the round of 16.
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The best Croatia players at 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 too much. Two goals in the groups wasn’t bad, mind. The Same as the entire England squad.
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.
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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 already masterminded a second-placed finish in Group D.
“Expectations are unrealistic” – Dalic keeping Croatia grounded
Despite reaching the final of the 2018 World Cup and qualifying for this tournament with just one defeat from eight games, Croatia’s expectations this summer are being kept in check by Dalic.
The Croatia boss admits hopes are higher than ever after their 2018 showing and maintains his side remain among the best in Europe. But Dalic believes there are a number of nations better placed to lift the title, including England, who beat them 1-0 on matchday one. As such, Dalic is taking things one step at a time, revealing he sees reaching the knockout rounds as an achievement in itself, which they have now done.
“The primary goal is to reach the knockout stages and what makes it difficult is the fact that England and Scotland will be hosts in their games against us,” he said prior to the tournament.
“England will be our most difficult opponents because they are a top-quality side and we’ll be playing them at Wembley.
“Our will-power and energy levels are the same as before the World Cup, but the atmosphere is different. The bar is too high and expectations are unrealistic now whereas no one had any before we went to Russia.
“We are still among the top 10 sides in Europe but there are many teams with a better chance of winning Euro 2020.”
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 he’s largely deviated from that script, just a touch. He’s reverted to a 4-3-3, but in transitions the team will resemble a 4-1-4-1, or 4-2-3-1, the latter of which allowed Modric to get up the pitch and score a ‘worldie’ against Scotland.
The full-backs have been Josip Juranovic and teenager Josko Gvardiol, with Sime Vrsaljko featuring against England. The midfield meanwhile has remained the key with Marcelo Brozovic and Modric taking up the same roles they did at the World Cup, with Ivan Rakitic being replaced by Mateo Kovacic. The Chelsea man entered Euro 2020 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 in the knockouts.
Attack is a place of change. Perisic has continued to net at sheer will and Ante Rebic has jostled for a spot with Nikola Vlasic, while Mario Pasalic is yet to see major game time. His involvement with the incredible Atalanta side has catapulted to the front of him Dalic’s viewing, but fans have thus far been starved of his qualities.
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: WDLLDWWL
Croatia got back to winning ways with successive victories in their World Cup qualifiers in March but will be disappointed with their recent results, only ending a four-game winless run in their final Group D game against Scotland to secure their passage into the last-16 of Euro 2020.
Chances of winning:
Croatia aren’t among the favourites for Euro 2020, however they aren’t true outsiders either. Sky Bet have them at 66/1 to win the competition, which is understandable given they face a horrific route to the final. First up are Spain in the last-16 and the winner of that will face either France or Switzerland. A potential semi-final would put Croatia up against one of Italy, Austria, Portugal or Belgium. (Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)