Zlatko Dalic has led Croatia further than any of the national team’s previous managers but it is hard to see him emulating his past success at Euro 2020.
Croatia defied expectations to reach the final of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, going one better than their third-placed finish at the 1998 tournament, after beating the likes of Argentina, tournament hosts Russia and Gareth Southgate’s England.
But the dynamic of the Croatia team has since altered and, although qualification for the European Championships was straightforward enough, their performance in the latest edition of the UEFA Nations League suggested they have receded.
Spine of Dalic’s Side Has Changed
They were pulled apart in the Nations League, losing five of their six games in a section which featured their conquerors in the 2018 final France, reigning Euro champions Portugal and resilient Sweden. Based on those showing, even
28/1 to win Euro 2020 looks too short.
Key to Croatia’s success in 2018 were the performances of three-goal Mario Mandzukic and midfield maestro Ivan Rakitic but both veterans have since retired from international football and will not be involved at Euro 2020.
Dalic can still call on captain Luka Modric, who is as involved as ever at Real Madrid under the stewardship of Zinedine Zidane but he will turn 36 this year and though he looks as sharp as technically, his movement and agility with the ball at his feet is surely only going to decline.
Ivan Perisic is also the wrong side of 30 and defender Dejan Lovren will be approaching his 32nd birthday when the tournament comes around, suggesting much of the Croatia spine could be past their best.
With this comes a lack of pace in the team which can be exploited by the more top-heavy units at Euro 2020.
Wolfsburg winger Josip Brekalo can go some way to solving that issue on the flanks, having impressed with his pace and trickery in the Bundesliga and laying on assists in Nations League affairs against France and Sweden.
New Guard Too Raw to Make Telling Euro Impact
Ultimately though this Croatia squad does not look as strong as it did three years ago.
Modric will still be considered the team’s star player but punters should also keep an eye on former Everton flop Nikola Vlasic.
Perisic has moved into a more central role for Croatia now but the number ten position is often taken up by Vlasic, who now plies his trade for CSKA Moscow and has scored five goals in 17 appearances for the national team.
He is somewhat too raw and inexperienced to send shockwaves through this summer’s tournament, as could also be the case with Brekalo and Lille defender Domagoj Bradaric, but can be expected to be at the forefront of many Croatia opportunities.
Those Croatian youngsters will need to grow up fast if they are to have a positive impact in a tricky Group D.
The Vatreni will come up against England again, alongside Scotland and the Czech Republic, and it is tough to imagine them justifying their price of
11/4 to win the group.
Croatia open their tournament with a tricky encounter against England, scheduled to be played at Wembley, and Gareth Southgate’s men are
4/5 favourites to get a measure of revenge for their World Cup semi-final loss.
The two nations have met twice since their 2018 showdown in Russia with the Three Lions winning once and the other ending in a goalless draw. Croatia are
7/2 to pick up another major tournament win over England, while a draw is
*All odds correct at time of writing