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Cand Luka Modric and Co go all the way at Euro 2020?
Cand Luka Modric and Co go all the way at Euro 2020?

Croatia are one of the dark horses for success this summer — despite not being considered among the favourites to win Euro 2020.

England's conquerors en route to the 2018 World Cup final, Zlatko Dalic's men once again arrive with a wealth of talent at their disposal and will quietly fancy themselves for another big run.

In what will surely be Luka Modric's European Championship swansong, can Croatia's inspirational captain lead his nation to their finest hour?

Background

Consistently capable of beating the traditional big hitters, the Vatreni made it all the way to the World Cup semi-final in 1998 before reaching the final two decades later.

Their European Championship record is not quite as impressive, having never been past the quarter-finals.

But they will be confident of progress from a group containing England, Scotland and the Czech Republic at Euro 2020. 

How they qualified

It was far from straightforward for Croatia during qualifying, despite ultimately topping their group to make the finals.

No group winners amassed less than their 17 points but that total was enough to put them three above Wales in second and four ahead of third-placed Slovakia.

They still won five games out of eight, losing just once, and head into the tournament with two wins from their last three games.

The line-up

Mateo Kovacic ended the season by winning the Champions League with Chelsea
Mateo Kovacic ended the season by winning the Champions League with Chelsea

Coach Dalic has an exciting squad to choose from and he is likely to set up in a 4-5-1 formation to get the most from his outstanding midfield options.

Real Madrid ace Modric, 35, remains the lynchpin of the side and is likely to be joined by Iner Milan's Marcelo Brozovic and Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic in the middle of the park. 

But Croatia will miss Sevilla star Ivan Rakitic — this is the first tournament since his retirement from international football in 2020.

As well as dominating the centre of the pitch, the beauty of having wide players such as Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic is that they can stretch the play and cross the ball into Andrej Kramaric, who is likely to start up front.

Dalic has an abundance of quality at his disposal, with Nikola Vlasic and Mario Pasalic also gunning for a start.

Borna Barisic will likely be at left-back, opposite Atletico Madrid’s Sime Vrsaljko, with Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren in front of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

Predicted line-up: Livakovic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Barisic; Rebic, Kovacic, Brozovic, Modric, Perisic; Kramaric.

Star player: Luka Modric

Modric has been the conductor of Croatia’s orchestra since Euro 2008, when his nation's two victories over England during qualification helped ensure the Three Lions did not even reach the finals.

He returned to haunt them again at the World Cup three years ago with a stellar performance in the semis and will be looking to make it third time lucky this summer.

The midfield maestro may be nearing the end of his career but he remains as influential as ever, coming into the European Championship on the back of an impressive season in LaLiga for Real Madrid.

He attempted 26.12 passes into the final third per 90 minutes and completed 21.88.

Both those stats put him inside the league’s top 10 performers in 2020-21 and reflect his continued creative influence for Los Blancos.

Veteran midfielder Luka Modric remains Croatia's creator-in-chief
Veteran midfielder Luka Modric remains Croatia's creator-in-chief

Up-and-comer: Josip Brekalo

Jospi Brekalo is fast, dynamic and direct — everything Dalic looks for in a winger. 

The 22-year-old is another who will be in with a shout of taking one of the wide slots, with an ability to play on both sides as well as down the middle.

He scored seven goals and registered three assists for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga in 2020-21 and will be ready to make an impact if called upon.

The boss: Zlatko Dalic

Dalic has been in charge of Croatia since 2017, having previously spent more than three years with Emirati outfit Al-Ain.

The 54-year-old manager has made Croatia excellent at balancing possession and playing on the counter, with their World Cup final appearance three years ago representing his crowning glory to date.

He will be hoping to upset the odds and secure silverware this time around.

All information correct as of midday, June 3, 2021

Tags

CroatiaEuropean Championship

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