England’s 2018 World Cup conquerors – A closer look at Croatia

Croatia celebrate (PA Archive)
15:44pm, Sat 12 Jun 2021
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England kick off their Euro 2020 campaign against Croatia on Sunday afternoon.

Here, the PA news agency puts the focus on Zlatko Dalic’s men ahead of the Group D clash at Wembley.


Croatia broke English hearts three years ago when securing a 2-1 comeback extra-time win in their World Cup semi-final in Moscow, where they returned and lost the final 4-2 to France. They received a hero’s welcome on their return home but it has not always been smooth sailing since finishing runners-up. Croatia were bottom of their three-team group in the inaugural Nations League, which started with a shocking 6-0 shellacking at the hands of Spain and ended with a 2-1 loss to England. Croatia avoided relegation and finished third in the four-team pool in the second edition of the Nations League, having topped their Euro 2020 qualifying group by three points over second-placed Wales. World Cup qualification kicked off this year with a disappointing 1-0 loss at Slovenia before beating Cyprus and Malta at home, while they drew 1-1 with Armenia and lost 1-0 to Belgium in this month’s warm-up friendlies.


Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic has been in charge since 2017 (PA Archive)

Croatia’s World Cup hopes were looking in jeopardy when they turned to Dalic in 2017. The former midfielder had spent a successful period in the Middle East before coming in as successor to Ante Cacic and surpassing expectations, steering them to second spot in their qualification group and then a play-off victory against Greece. Dalic’s men beat Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland in what had been a tough-looking World Cup group in Russia, before knocking Denmark and the hosts out on penalties. The semi-final propelled Croatia into the final and a new level of fame and goodwill for the 54-year-old.


Dalic’s favoured system is an organised, aggressive 4-2-3-1, with attack-minded full-backs providing extra threat. Experienced Domagoj Vida is an important component at the heart of a defence that can also call upon former Liverpool player Dejan Lovren and some younger talented options. Luka Modric plays ahead of the backline alongside Marcelo Brozovic, with a number 10 flanked by wide men as the physical presence of Bruno Petkovic leads the line.

Key men

Luka Modric starred in the 2018 World Cup semi-final against England (PA Archive)

The main man, without question, is Real Madrid’s Modric – still the heartbeat of the Croatian side at the age of 35. Modric has been named Croatia’s player of the year nine times and won the Golden Ball at the 2018 World Cup, as well as that year’s world player of the year award. Champions League-winning midfielder Mateo Kovacic is the only Premier League player in the squad, but Lovren, Nikola Vlasic and Andrej Kramaric have played there in recent years. Luton’s Simon Sluga is among the goalkeeping pool, while Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic provide a threat in attack. Another option is Mislav Orsic, whose stunning hat-trick knocked Tottenham out of the Europa League.

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