UEFA Euro 2020

Croatia Euro 2020 preview: Key players, strengths, weaknesses and expectations

Robbie Copeland
Croatia are looking to cause more upsets at Euro 2020
Croatia are looking to cause more upsets at Euro 2020 / Laszlo Szirtesi/Getty Images
facebooktwitterreddit

When the conversation about 'dark horses' starts ahead of any major international tournament, Croatia are usually front and centre.

And that's no different this year. Despite going all the way to the final of the 2018 World Cup, that was three long years ago, and a few high profile retirements since - including Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic - mean they are not the team they were three long years ago.

They still carry a fear factor with them into the tournament, however, and with the vastly experienced Zlatko Dalic still at the helm, you wouldn't rule out another run deep into the tournament - especially since they have landed in a group they would expect to qualify from alongside England, Scotland and the Czech Republic.

Read on for everything you need to know about their chances.


Route to Euro 2020

A pretty underwhelming Nations League campaign seemed to flatten Croatia after their World Cup heroics, but they soon got things together to qualify for the Euros without too much fuss.

There were faced with some potentially tricky ties, with Wales, Slovakia and Hungary all harbouring realistic expectations of qualifying, but Croatia flexed their muscles to take 17 points from a possible 25 to take a firm grip of Group E.

There were one or two shakey results in there mind you. Azerbaijan bloodied their nose twice, scoring first in Croatia before taking their only point of the campaign when Dalic's team travelled to Baku.


Strengths

Croatia v Slovakia - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier
Modric and Brozovic will be key / Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images

Croatia's big strength lies in the control they have of midfield, with Luka Modric and Marcelo Brozovic forming a formidable duo at the centre of the park. The world class duo also provide the discipline and legs that make them such a tricky side to beat.

They also don't seem to have too much trouble scoring goals. While Mandzukic is now a relic of the past, Ante Rebic and Bruno Petkovic provide enough for opposition defences to worry about at the top of the pitch.


Weaknesses

Ivan Perisic, Domagoj Vida
Domagoj Vida is one of Croatia's ageing stars / Jurij Kodrun/Getty Images

The major problem facing Croatia is the age of the squad. Modric, their talisman and the gravitational centre on which everything else is built, is now 35, while Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida and Milan Badelj are all the wrong side of 30.

Young players such as Josip Brekalo, Nikola Vlasic and Duje Caleta-Car have been introduced as part of the transition, but there have been reports of a dressing room split, with Lovren citing a 'lack of respect' from the newer kids on the block. It seems like the team spirit that nearly carried them all the way in 2018 is starting to fracture.

On the pitch, their main weakness is an inability to defend set pieces - an issue that has become increasingly prevalent since keeper Danijel Subasic hung up his boots and gloves after the World Cup.


Players to watch

Luka Modric, Yannick Carrasco
Modric will be central to Croatia / John Berry/Getty Images

While the old guard have dropped like flies since 2018, Luka Modric remains the main man. He's still one of the best midfielders on the planet despite his advancing years and will be vital to any hopes they have of a sustained run.

If there is anyone in the team that equals his importance, it's his midfield partner Marcelo Brozovic. His energy and drive keeps the clock ticking and he is one of a handful of players who are virtually guaranteed to start when they kick off their campaign against England.

Elsewhere, Ivan Perisic's creative presence out wide continues to be crucial and he will be linking up with Rangers' Borna Barisic who is undroppable at left-back.


Final squad

Dalic has named his full 26-player squad for the Euros.

Goalkeepers: Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Simon Sluga (Luton)

Defenders: Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico de Madrid), Borna Barisic (Rangers), Duje Caleta-Car (Marseille), Dejan Lovren (Zenit), Josip Juranovic (Legia Warszawa), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Josko Gvardiol (Leipzig), Domagoj Bradaric (LOSC Lille), Mile Skoric (Osijek)

Midfielders: Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Genoa), Nikola Vlasic (CSKA Moskva), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Josip Brekalo (Wolfsburg), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Luka Ivanusec (Dinamo Zagreb)

Forwards: Ante Rebic (AC Milan), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim)


Predictions

Croatia will be hoping they can win Group D, and their opening clash with England might well decide it. But whether it's as winners or runners up, they will be expecting to make the last 16 - and they know as well as anyone that anything can happen from there.

Their results against Portugal and France in last year's Nations League, though, suggest they will struggle when they come toe to toe with one of the big boys this time. A quarter-final place may be a realistic aim, but it will depend where they end up in the tree.

facebooktwitterreddit