We are a handful of days away from Euro 2020 and the excitement and nerves are real. All the 24 nations will be ready to battle it out at one of the grandest stages of international football. And one team that will be highly driven to show out once again will be Croatia.
The Croatian national team brought glory to their country by reaching their first-ever World Cup final in 2018. They made a whole nation proud and united the whole country like never before. They say no one remembers the runner-ups, that only the champions remain in people’s memory, but Croatia’s historic run at the World Cup had everyone in awe and hence deserves a place in football history books. Croatia will look to replicate their staggering campaign from 2018 at the European Championship this summer.
Croatia’s squad has grown in strength since their performance at the 2018 World Cup. Drawn in Group D alongside the likes of England, Scotland and the Czech Republic, Croatia will fancy their chances if they can manoeuvre a result against a talented England side. Much will depend on the synergy of the midfield which is the strongest department of their squad.
Croatia is stacked in the middle of the park with some ballers in that position. And the orchestrator for the men in red and white is none other than Luka Modric. Croatia’s captain and their most capped player is a passing master. The Los Blancos man defines aesthetics and beauty.
He caresses the ball, has a full repertoire of technical actions and controls the ball with subtlety and wizardry. His trademark turn preceded by a body feint is an art when he is under pressure. With an unequalled change of rhythm and plasticity, the 2018 Ballon D’or winner can break pressing lines even when receiving with his back to goal. His passes have venom and aggressiveness. He finds the free man and perfectly knows which zones to occupy or which teammate to activate.
🇭🇷 Luka Modrić = Croatia's most capped player with 135 caps 👏
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) March 27, 2021
Modric made all the headlines with his Golden Ball award at the 2018 World Cup and after bossing his side’s midfield throughout the tournament. However, there’s a man who has been working in Luka’s shadow and who has been just as important for Croatia coached by Zlatko Dalic and that’s Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic.
He is Conte’s first name on the team sheet in every game and rightfully so. A natural pivot often acting at the base of the midfield, he can also operate as an interior or central mid. He often receives the ball from the centre-backs and from there he dictates play as the team advances as a block into the opposing half.
Brozovic always plays with his head held high and continuously scans his surroundings. On the ball, he is very technical and with a pinpoint distribution, both in short and long. He has been in stellar form, recently winning the Serie A title with Inter Milan and will be hoping to replicate that for his national side.
Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic and CSKA Moscow’s Nikola Vlasic are also other midfielders who are tactically astute and highly industrious and hence will offer great depth in midfield to Zlatko Dalic. They will add agility to the midfield and have great decision making. Kovacic role has evolved over the years. From being a goal creator and box-to-box midfielder whose primary function was to put balls behind the opposition defence and make late runs to end up assisting or scoring to becoming a complete central mid. His most important job has been to balance the team and help the defence.
Zlatko Dalic has a plethora of attacking options to choose from. Inter Milan frontman Ivan Perisic, who provided Croatia with a lifeline and took the game into extra-time in the 2018 World Cup semifinal, is some customer coming off the left. Perisic’s pace and cutting edge ability to beat the final man is a nightmare to defend against.
🛣️ Road to #EURO2020
🇭🇷 #Croatia qualifying goal No. 5⃣
⚽️ Ivan Perišić
— HNS (@HNS_CFF) May 12, 2021
Hoffenheim’s star striker Andrej Kramaric has been balling out for the German side. In 26 Bundesliga clashes this season, Kramaric has found the back of the net 18 times and has been the go-to man for his side this campaign.
AC Milan’s Ante Rebic is another lethal striker and will probably be Dalic’s first choice as the number 9 after Mario Mandzukic’s retirement from international football back in 2018. Rebic can also be deployed as a winger. He might have solidified his case for being the first choice striker for Dalic after scoring a hat-trick in the 7-0 thrashing of Torino by Milan on Thursday. His immense pace will act as a dagger for the Croatian attack.
⚡️ Today his output was lightning – a hat-trick and an assist inside 17 minutes 🎩➕🅰️
🔥 The Croatia star is in the form of his life! pic.twitter.com/M8ZAPDm8gn
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) May 12, 2021
28-year-old winger Mislav Orsic is another player who has been stellar for his Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb finding the net 16 times in 31 league appearances. He can also be deployed as an attacking midfielder and along with scoring, he has a knack for creating some as well.
GRIT AND GRACE
Back in 2018, Croatia weren’t the candidates at the beginning, but they became one of the favourites as the days went by. With their compact football and great talent in midfield; Croatia got past bigger nations like Argentina and England. They topped Group D, the group of death, which included La Albiceleste, Nigeria and Iceland.
All of them were expected to do big things in the tournament, but the Red and White clipped them the wings. Then in the knockout phase, they used their strong mentality and coolness to make their way to the finals. In the last 16, quarterfinal, and semifinal, they started the game losing but tied the game and sent it to extra time (vs England) or to penalties (vs Denmark and Russia).
Until they reached the final match, where they didn’t deceive despite some mistakes which lead to a loss against a much bigger side in France. But irrespective of that, what they achieved was incredible and made every football fan believe that anything is possible with hard work and teamwork.
Going into Euro 2020 with the same mindset, Croatia are one of the favourites to win it all and will be in search of redemption.