World cup runners-up are in a period of decline
EURO 2020 GROUP D
REACHING the 2018 World Cup final was a massive achievement for Croatia but they have lost a lot of key players since then and may struggle to make a major impression this summer. Croatia almost lost their status as one of Europe’s top-tier sides when finishing third in their Nations League group last autumn with three points from 18. A superior goal difference kept them above Sweden, who were relegated to League B, but they were nowhere near the level of France and Portugal. Of the Croatian team who started the 2018 World Cup final, four players are no longer part of the set-up and three others have moved into their 30s. Shedding talent is a normal process in international football but there is a lack of quality in reserve. Dinamo Zagreb winger Mislav Orsic has emerged as another option in attack after his superb efforts in the Europa League and his clubmate Luka is one to watch after notching nine goals in 27 appearances for Croatia’s Under 21s. But there is a general lack of talent coming through and head coach Zlatko Dalic feels he has no other option than to persist with the old guard. Croatia made an uncertain start to World Cup qualifying, losing 1-0 away to Slovenia, and have a tough task on their hands to earn a place at Qatar 2022. The oldest player in the squad, 35-year-old midfielder Luka Modric, is still playing to a very high standard and is one of the main reasons why they cannot be entirely written off. Modric is part of a strong midfield triumvirate featuring Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic and Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic, but Croatia look short of quality in the defensive and attacking thirds and will do well to advance any further than the round of 16.