Croatia came closer than anyone expected to winning the 2018 World Cup. They will now be keen to go the distance in Euro 2020.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is considered by many as one of the best editions of the tournament in recent memory. One of the reasons for this was the unpredictability of the matches. No team typified this more than Croatia. The Balkan nation won hearts aplenty with a stirring run to the final. And while they fell short at the summit clash, their effort in reaching there was applauded by all and sundry. That being said, history remembers only the victors. Having come this close to a win and then losing would have hurt the Croatia football team. As such, they would be keen to avoid a repeat in Euro 2020.
However, their fortunes have been mixed in recent times. They did well in their Euros qualifying campaign, finishing on top of their group and only losing one game.
But they fared poorly in the inaugural UEFA Nations League. They were drawn into Group A – the highest tier – for the tournament.
Yet their performance will be one they would like to forget – and soon. They lost all games except for one against Sweden at home. They also conceded the second-most goals in the tournament – only Iceland conceded more.
The performances were so poor that the Croatian public wanted head coach Zlatko Dalic to resign. But the Croatian Football Federation kept their faith in him.
Dalic has a good squad to work with going into Euro 2020. Perhaps more importantly, the core of the 2018 squad remains intact – even if they are aging.
Nowhere is the squad’s age more apparent than in defence. The likes of Dejan Lovren (31) and Domagoj Vida (32) will again marshall the central defensive area.
The fitness of right-back Sime Vrsaljko will be key, as his attacking ability adds a useful dimension to the attack. However, in recent seasons he has struggled with muscle injuries.
21-year-old Domagoj Bradaric, fresh of winning a Ligue 1 with LOSC Lille, is an exception to the old defenders rule. He will also be key on the left-flank in defence.
But if there is any part of the field where Croatia are spoiled for options, it is the midfield.
Skipper Luka Modric selects himself, the 35-year-old still operating at a high level for both club and country. Marcelo Brozovic will likely sit deep alongside the captain. Nikola Vlasic will most likely play in the advanced role.
However, they also have Mateo Kovacic, who is capable of operating in a multitude of midfield positions. Milan Badelj can play as a pure defensive midfielder, with Mario Pasalic another attacking midfield option.
Given teams can use five subs, expect to see plenty of midfield tinkering from Dalic.
Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic have also all but nailed down their spots as the preferred wingers. But the forward line remains undecided for now – although again, that’s not down to a lack of options.
Andre Kramaric will be the favourite to start in that position. But Bruno Petkovic is a more than decent alternative, and don’t forget Mislav Orsic – the Dinamo Zagreb man who scored a Europa League hat-trick against Tottenham Hotspur and knocked them out of the tournament.
Croatia are drawn in Group D alongside England, Czech Republic and Scotland. Them and England – who they defeated in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals – will be the favourites to make the knockout round.
Given one can finish third in the group and still qualify for the knockouts, it would be hard to make a case against Croatia qualifying out of the group.
After all, this is a team whose aging superstars will be keen to go the distance in an international tournament. Having finished second in the World Cup, that is the only logical progression.
Winning the Euros won’t be a breeze for the Croats, by any stretch. But few would bet against them putting in a good show come June 11 either.