For a team that reached the World Cup final just three years ago, Croatia are flying under the radar heading into the Euros this summer. They are outside the list of favourites to win the Euros but head coach Zlatko Dalic won’t mind that one bit because Croatia’s strength lies in their unpredictability.
This Croatia squad is packed with talent. Captain Luka Modric has won just about everything available to him in the club game and has played over 130 times for his country. Ivan Perisic, Mateo Kovacic, Dejan Lovren and Sime Vrsaljko ooze international class. The majority of Dalic’s Croatia Euros squad was there in Russia for the previous World Cup and there are expectations back at home that another progression deep into the knockout stages awaits.
Croatia’s road to the Euros started with a dogged 2-1 win over Azerbaijan in qualifying Group E and ended in them topping the table, three points ahead of Wales. They won all four of their home games and lost just once on the road – to Hungary. Bruno Petkovic was the group’s top scorer with four goals, while Perisic, Modric and Nikola Vlasic also scored multiple times. This summer the team will likely look to these four players to deliver the goals in crucial group games against England, Scotland and Czech Republic.
The Croatian FA made the decision to set up their Euros base in Scotland this summer. They will face the Scots and Czechs at Hampden Park, while their group clash with England is penned in for Wembley. Croatia are expected to either win Group D or finish second behind England, in which case they would face the runners-up of Group E, who could be Sweden or Poland, in the last-16 in Copenhagen.
Dalic tends to deploy a 4-2-3-1 system that gets the best out of Modric playing behind lone striker Perisic. The boss prefers his team to play on the ground, rather than booting the ball up field to the centre forward, and it’s the job of Vlasic and Andrej Kramaric to offer attacking support.
The concern for Croatia is in their defence and often the manager sacrifices attacking threat by drafting Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic into the middle to protect the back line. Only twice have Croatia ever passed the quarter-final stage at the Euros and it is the defence that might let them down here again.
Zenit Saint Petersburg
Luka Modrić (c)