Euro 2020: Luka Modrić and Zlatko Dalic have set the bar higher for Croatia. Expectations are unrealistic now; there was none before Russia.
By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | June 12, 2021
Euro Cup 2020: Croatia vs England
Croatia takes on England tomorrow at Wembley in their opening ‘Group D’ match of Euro 2020. For England, it will be time to turn back the clock and triumph over Croatia who knocked them out in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
A spirited Croatia, egged on from the stands by their then president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, equalised through Ivan Perišić and then had a Mario Mandzukic’s 109th-minute winner take them to the final. How could they? Luka Modrić, leading from the front, had got this Croatian side winning hearts, the globe over.
For England, who kept saying, “It’s coming home”, it was time to go home after they failed to capitalise on Kieran Trippier’s fifth-minute goal.
World Cup final: Croatia vs France
France won the Cup, Croatia won hearts. There was no denying the tactical, scheming play employed by Didier Deschamps. They not only bored in their semi-final against Belgium winning 1-0 but got out their ‘technical best’ in the final, in the process putting on display, dull soccer.
If that was not enough, Antoine Griezmann, the French forward and Argentine referee Nestor Pitana combined to aide the boring ‘technical display’ employed by Deschamps and his boys.
First up, it was Griezmann who play-acted and sprawled on the grass. Replays clearly showed that Marcelo Brozovic who was the closest to the Frenchman did not even touch the ‘actor’ as he fell to the ground outside the box. The resultant, curling free-kick saw Mario Mandzukic head into his own goal!
Fans were livid, so were the commentators. “It’s a dive,” said former England player Alan Shearer. “Brozovic goes in to close him down and Griezmann was expecting to be hit and he wasn’t.” Former England player Sir Trevor Brooking, speaking on BBC Radio 5 live, said: “I am so annoyed. It was never, ever a free kick. Griezmann hardly got touched.”
The Croatians soon equalised with the dynamic Ivan Perišić finding the net ten minutes later. Pitana then came onto the scene awarding a penalty where there should not have been one. Perišić had no time to get his hand out of the way, it wasn’t a deliberate handball and Pitana too was not convinced. He deliberated for several minutes, watching the incident on a pitchside camera. This knocked off the wind out of the Croatians’ sail, which eventually saw the momentum swing in favour of France. Former Germany manager Jurgen Klinsmann said on BBC One: “When you are not sure, you don’t give it. It was the wrong decision.” Former England defender Rio Ferdinand too was livid: “Two bad decisions have turned the game on its head,” he said.
Euro Cup 2020, a shot to glory
That is now history, Modrić and his boys will be giving it their all for another shot at glory come tomorrow. The team still boasts of the nucleus that formed the heart-winners in Russia. Nine players are still doing national duty and at the helm, they still have Coach Zlatko Dalic. Modrić will turn 36 in September this year and he will be looking to move into the sunset with the Euro Cup.
If the loss to France will be uppermost in their minds, the loss in the last 16 to eventual winners Portugal in the 2016 Euro Cup will also be something that will be rankling Dalic and Modrić. They will want to better their record at the Euros, which Croatia has been part of since 1996.
Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Šime Vrsaljko, Mateo Kovačić, Luka Modrić, Milan Badelj, Ivan Perišić, Andrej Kramarić and Ante Rebić from the 2018 squad will be itching to bring Croatia once again to the top. Sorely missed in the line-up will be Mario ‘The Tank’ Mandžukić who quit soon after the World Cup along with goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and Ivan Rakitić who retired in September 2020. However, Croatia has young blood that is as eager to prove their mettle.
Bruno Petković has exceeded expectations since making his national team debut in March 2020. The Dinamo Zagreb forward has been among the goals, scoring four times in the qualifying games. There is also Nikola Vlasic and Ante Budimir who will add teeth to the line-up. But guiding Modric, Ante Rebić and Andrej Kramarić will be the ever effervescent Perišić. The Inter Milan player triples up as a winger, midfielder and effective striker. For me, he remains the player to look out for during this entire tournament. But let’s not forget Modrić, the battle-hardened warrior, who will push himself to the limit for that one shot at Croatian glory.
So what about England? Hopefully, Gareth Southgate’s boys would want to take it one match at a time instead of shouting, “It is coming home.”
All the best, Croatia!