Sometimes, you learn more about the team through the words and actions of the opposition leader. Czech Republic Governor Jaroslav Silhavy suspended the half-koruna when he failed to score a cartwheel in his final match against Croatia Football World Cup Side but celebrated as someone who had recently checked his Mega Millions ticket three times.
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I was surprised that they didn’t attack us in the first half and let us play, we used that, he said. A precious point against a strong opponent. Silhavy may have put it lightly as a way to boost his country’s confidence. Or he may have fallen into the trap of falling into the trap of believing that a previous race was predictable. After all, Croatia advanced to the finals of the last FIFA World Cup where they lost to France.
Along the way, they won all of their group games including a convincing victory over Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Nigeria, and, on release, beat hosts Russia and England in the semi-finals. This Croatia Football World Cup side is not like that, and many seem surprised. Maybe they shouldn’t be.
There are many reasons why results in one major tournament have very little impact on the next, yet so is the type of international football that, based on generally unreasonable expectations, we make decisions not just for the team or the game but throughout the life of national football.
Why is Croatia struggling so hard at this time? Why do they look so slow, so groggy, too, as Croatia Football World Cup side Captain Luke Modric himself puts it he is thought to be referring to the first 20 minutes against England and the first half against the unorganized Czechs at the start of the games?
There are a variety of reasons: some are manageable, some are not. The simplest thing is to point out the passage of time. Everyone is three years old and in addition, the first four players in the 2018 team are no more. The last point is over. Josko Gvardiol, if any, is better than Ivan Strinic at left-back.
Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic may not be wearing the Superman trophy he saw him wear by Danijel Subasic in 2018, but that is no reason for them to have one point in two games. Ivan Rakitic was (and still is) an amazing footballer, but many forget that he had a FIFA World Cup and, in any case, his position where Croatia has a lot of depth.
The young man you feel is missing is Mario Mandzukic, a great, portable striker, who plays in the middle of the sleeve. Croatia doesn’t have it, and you can’t do magic anywhere. Having said that, you do not need someone to do well in competitions. As for the former, of course, they are older, but only Modric is older than 32 and only four are in their 30s. Many are coming out of good seasons at the club level, too. For more to know about Qatar World Cup tickets Click here.
But what if the whole foundation is not right?
Croatia can be proud of home names like Modric, Chelsea’s Matthew Kovacic, Milan’s Ante Rebic, Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic, and Ivan Perisic, but perhaps the team hasn’t been very good in a long time. Since the start of 2020, Croatia has played 13 games, won four against Switzerland, Sweden, Cyprus, and Malta, drawn two, and lost seven.
Some of them sit in the top tier of the Nations League against Portugal and France twice each, another difficult to describe in equal measure with Romania, losing to Slovenia. Perhaps the main reasons some of us expected to compete were the 2018 race with big names, but we should know from the club game that football does not work that way.
We are not quoting the results of the last three years when we predict who will win the next Premier League. It looks like the Croatian news can be simplified. It’s not that they play a little too fast if you have so much quality in the middle of the pitch, it’s okay to slow down and increase the tempo as needed but rather, the laziness ahead.
Whatever combination of Rebic, Perisic, Josip Brekalo, Bruno Petkovic, and Andrej Kramaric on the field, we have never seen opposition players expand or create space for their midfielders. In another incident, Perisic’s spectacular run and finish off against the Czechs, resulted in results. The inequality has especially forced Modric to move around the stadium to find a place.
Against England, when almost personally noted by Mason Mount, he sought extensive territory. When facing the Czechs, he played very hard and Brozovic sat on the bench, often picking up the ball near the back. No solution was found for him.
Coach Zlatko Dalic is well aware of this. He changed the format from one game to the next, made changes, used both carrots after the England game, and emphasized that the game was equal. And that Wembley’s heat affected his players and stuck after Friday’s draw said: We need strength. We started badly again, we struggled, we didn’t get together… Even Modric, who used to move the team, said they looked organized.
Croatia still controls its fate. A win against Scotland in Glasgow will secure a place in the knockout round with a rescue gun, but they will have to combine things with several gears to do that or even get closer to what we saw in 2018. Without Mandzukic, it is probably not the talent or age that has gripped Croatia for not being able to prepare and perform. And the symptoms have been around for a long time.
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