Croatia is usually at the forefront of any discussion about ‘dark horses’ ahead of any major international competition. And this year is no exception. Despite reaching the 2018 World Cup final, which was three years ago, and a few high-profile retirements since then – including Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic – mean they are no longer the team they were.
They haven’t been in peak form since losing in the final to France, scraping through to the group stages of UEFA Euro 2020. Croatia were defeated by Hungary in the qualifying rounds but earned a tight win over Azerbaijan and a draw against the same opponent. The absence of goal scorers, as well as Luka Modric’s poor form, did not help matters. The scoring will be further diminished without Ivan Rakitic, who retired.
The Kockasti still have a fear factor going into the tournament, and with the hugely experienced Zlatko Dalic at the helm, you wouldn’t rule out another deep run – especially when they’ve been drawn in a group with England, Scotland, and the Czech Republic.
THE FULL SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Simon Sluga (Luton Town).
Defenders: Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico de Madrid), Borna Barisic (Rangers), Duje Caleta-Car (Olympique Marseille), Dejan Lovren (Zenit), Josip Juranovic (Legia Warszawa), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Josko Gvardiol (R.B. Leipzig), Domagoj Bradaric (LOSC Lille), Mile Skoric (Osijek).
Midfielders: Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter), Milan Badelj (Genoa), Nikola Vlasic (CSKA Moskva), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta), Ivan Perisic (Inter), Josip Brekalo (Wolfsburg), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Luka Ivanusec (Dinamo Zagreb).
Forwards: Ante Rebic (AC Milan), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (CA Osasuna), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim).
GROUP STAGE FIXTURES
- England vs Croatia, June 13 (14:00, Wembley)
- Croatia vs Czech Republic, June 18 (17:00, Glasgow)
- Croatia vs Scotland, June 22 (20:00, Glasgow)
Luka Modric – Despite the absence of Rakitic and Mandzukic, Croatia’s 26-man squad still contains some really brilliant players, including Real Madrid veteran Luka Modric. Modric, arguably his country’s greatest ever player, was instrumental in Croatia’s best-ever tournament finish three years ago and continues to perform at a high level.
His efforts in the World Cup summer were so fierce that the Croatian appeared to be a spent force for the next 18 months, as if he had given up all of his footballing life force for that one chance at glory. However, the year-long hiatus that before the Euros allowed Luka Modric to rediscover himself. Since the resumption of football, Modric has been unstoppable, and despite his age, he is once again Real Madrid’s and Croatia’s best midfielder. A two-sided talisman.
When the team is aiming to attack, a precise passer of the ball, his first touch, positional play, and ability to command the pace of the game are all crucial. His midfield precision, accuracy, and tactical insight have earned him the title of ‘midfield maestro.’ Modric has progressed from an attacking midfielder to a deeper role, allowing him to have more possession of the ball and so control the attacking play of the game.
Preferred Formation: 4-3-3
Goalkeeper: Dominik Livaković.
Defenders: Šime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Borna Barišić.
Midfielders: Marcelo Brozović, Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić.
Forwards: Ante Rebić, Andrej Kramarić, Ivan Perišić.
Croatia has reached the final of a major tournament before, but their European Championship record is poor, and their results in recent years have also been poor. Nonetheless, Dalic’s team has been put in a favourable group, although one that includes two tournament co-hosts on either side of the Czech Republic.
They will be trying to win Group D, and their first match against England might be decisive. But, whether they finish first or second, they’ll be hoping to go to the last 16 – and they know better than anyone that anything can happen from there. However, their performances in last year’s Nations League against Portugal and France suggest they will struggle when they face one of the big boys this time. A quarter-final ticket is a realistic goal, but it will depend on where they finish in the standings.