We continue our build-up to Euro 2020, which starts on Friday, by taking a close look at Croatia’s prospects in the tournament, with Mateo Kovacic hoping to go one better than at the last World Cup…
Croatia – Group D
Vatreni, or The Blazers, surprised many by making it to football’s showpiece occasion in 2018. Having eased through a group containing Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland with maximum points, they overcame Denmark and hosts Russia on penalties before beating England after extra-time.
Croatia came unstuck in the final against a star-studded France side, going down 4-2, and since then three of the mainstays of their team, Daniel Subasic, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, have retired from international duty.
Still, despite something of a generational shift, competition for places remains fierce, particularly in central midfield where Kovacic operates, and there is plenty of tournament experience throughout the side, which Luka Modric captains.
Zlatko Dalic’s side have struggled for form in the past year, losing seven of their past 13 matches, including a friendly defeat to Belgium on Sunday. They could only draw 1-1 with Armenia a few days earlier.
Nonetheless, Croatia will fancy their chances of making it out of Group D, also containing England, Czech Republic and Scotland. From there, as their experiences in Russia three years ago taught them, anything can happen.
They have happy memories of playing in and against England at major tournaments, having reached the quarter-finals during Euro 96, so the opener at Wembley won’t faze them. They then meet Czech Republic at Hampden Park before playing Scotland there a few days later, and they will likely be targeting at least four points from those two games in what could be a tight group.
Kovacic has 67 international caps to his name, having made his Croatia debut all the way back in March 2013 at the age of just 18.
The now four-time Champions League winner has already featured at two World Cups and one European Championships, although largely off the bench. Kovacic will be aiming to make a midfield starting berth his own this time around, although he faces stiff competition in that department.
His good friend Modric is certain to play, and Marcelo Brozovic, Nikola Vlasic, Milan Badelj and former Blue Mario Pasalic are all possible starters in the middle of the park in an expected 4-3-3 shape.
Croatia v England, Wembley, Sunday 13 June, 2pm
Croatia v Czech Republic, Hampden Park, Friday 18 June, 8pm
Croatia v Scotland, Hampden Park, Tuesday 22 June, 8pm
If Croatia win their group, they will play the runner-up of Group F (France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary).
If Croatia come second, they will play the runner-up of Group E (Spain, Sweden, Poland, Slovakia).
Winners of groups do not automatically play runners-up, and vice versa, because four third-placed teams also qualify.
Goalkeepers: Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Simon Sluga (Luton Town)
Defenders, Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Domagoj Bradaric (Lille), Mile Skoric (Osijek), Dejan Lovren (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Borna Barisic (Rangers), Duje Caleta-Car (Marseille), Josip Juranovic (Legia Warsaw)
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Genoa), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta), Nikola Vlasic (CSKA Moscow), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan)
Forwards: Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Josip Brekalo (Wolfsburg), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna), Kristijan Lovric (Gorica), Ante Rebic (AC Milan), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb)