This article is part of The Guardian’s Euro 2020 Expert Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 24 countries that rated. theguardian.com is running trailers from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament start on June 11.
Post-World Cup rebuilding has been done on the fly and not without major damage, as Croatia looked hapless in the Nations League against Portugal and France. Still, qualification for the European Championship was achieved without too much trouble, although the team rarely seemed entirely convincing.
Four players have already withdrawn from the starting XI of the World Cup final: Danijel Subasic, Ivan Strinic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic. All of his replacements – Dominik Livakovic, Borna Barisic, Nikola Vlasic and Bruno Petkovic – have done well so far. Cracks have appeared elsewhere, particularly in an aging defense that has proven to be very vulnerable, particularly on set pieces. There is a need for more fresh blood in the form of Duje Caleta-Car, Domagoj Bradaric or Josko Gvardiol, while Sime Vrsaljko, finally recovered from his wounds, looks like a shadow of his old self.
The locker room information is strictly controlled, but rumors about certain disagreements have been circulating for a long time. Dejan Lovren seemed to confirm this when he said that younger players “lack respect.” “New kids take some things for granted, they need to change their attitude towards the team and us older ones,” he said. The coach, Zlatko Dalic, later dismissed speculation about a breakup, but also spoke about a “lack of chemistry”, saying: “Young players must realize that it takes time for them to become part of this team.”
Rather than looking to replace Rakitic’s role in midfield, Dalic opted to return to 4-2-3-1, with Vlasic impressing at No. 10. Alternatives for the job include Mario Pasalic and Andrej Kramaric. Marcelo Brozovic, vital to the team’s defensive balance, has continued to grow in importance, especially since there is no real alternative to the staunch midfielder. Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic has 66 caps to his name, but he doesn’t consider himself a starter yet, and never has been.
The options are also limited in advance. Petkovic has been excellent at times during the heats, but has struggled with form and fitness. In his absence, Dalic attempted to play without a suitable forward, using a 4-4-2 midfield diamond with wingers leading the charge. That didn’t work out so well, so Ante Budimir, a more classic No. 9, has been selected as a substitute.
Of course, the experience in Russia has been a great advantage for the mentality of the team. Croatia may seem quite shaky at the moment, but if the pieces of the puzzle are put together they could be ready for great things again.
Zlatko Dalic claims that he does not eat on match days and does not speak to anyone outside the team or use his phone at all. “People close to me know that I don’t function like a normal person in those days, so they don’t even try to call me,” he says. What he does is pray before each game and always carries a rosary in his pocket for good luck. Dalic also regretfully admits that he “doesn’t really read books” other than training manuals.
Look no further, Luka Modric – this is still pretty much your team and that’s not always a good thing. Yes, he still reigns supreme in midfield, boys are much more likely to wear his jersey and his face will appear in most advertisements, but the captain is not universally loved in his homeland. The motive is very specific: his role in the notorious trial of Zdravko Mamic, the biggest corruption case in Croatian football. Modric changed his earlier testimony and said he “did not remember” the key details that would favor the prosecution, prompting perjury charges that were later dropped.
Happy for the delay of a year
Starting right-back Sime Vrsaljko missed more than two years of international football due to knee surgery and a recurring injury before finally making an appearance against Slovenia in March this year. “I missed the guys,” he said. “However, we are not here to socialize but to achieve results.”
What the fans sing
You’re beautiful (You are so Beautiful). A very controversial choice, given that it is performed by a singer, Marko Perkovic Thompson, who has been linked to far-right nationalist revisionism and banned in some countries for that. The song lists the historical regions of Croatia, but culminates with the mention of a part of neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina – by the way, it’s where Dalic and some of his players come from. Thompson made an appearance on stage with the team at the 2018 World Cup celebration rally in Zagreb, but was not allowed to perform the song.
What fans say
“Leave your heart in the field” – leave the heart in the field.
“Let those who bother suffer” – whoever bothers, let him suffer: enjoy even success (or especially) if it causes pain to others.
“He sent for cevape “ – sent him looking for kebabs: a move that sends an opposing player down the wrong path.
Pandemic hero / villain
“It’s over, Bill. People are not blind, ”Dejan Lovren wrote on Instagram last year, commenting on a Bill Gates post related to Covid. At the height of the pandemic, he also shared posts from conspiracy theorists like David Icke and Rashid Buttar, but later declared that he was not an anti-vaccine: “I think people should have the benefit of choosing.”
Alex Holiga writes for telesport.
Follow him on Twitter @AlexHoliga.
For a gamer profile of Nikola Vlasic, click here.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism