The Vatreni are placed in Group D alongside England, Czech Republic and Scotland.
After a memorable campaign which finished at the FIFA World Cup final, Croatia will hope for another standout performance in UEFA Euro 2020. It was the magical run by Croatia to the finals of the competition that caught the eyes of many.
Following their FIFA World Cup heroics, fans have started respecting the footballing acumen of the Croats. However, they have always looked a smaller side compared to the giants of the game. While their finals appearances was impressive, the fact that they failed to win a single game in the knockout stages in 90 minutes seems to be a point people seem to notice too often. Which is why the upcoming Euro 2020 are crucial for Luka Modric and co.
Although they have produced great players regularly, Croatia have never been a fancied side. Apart from their third-place finish in the 1998 World Cup in France and the recent final in Russia, they have rarely hit above their weight, in both Euros and the World Cup. Nevertheless, Croatia have every right to be considered as a contender, heading into the Euros after the 2018 World Cup. However, recent performances don’t favour them.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup
The 2018 World Cup was in itself a mighty test for them. Their best-ever performance came when they beat a relatively mild Argentina in the group stage to take control of the group. Penalty shootout victories against Denmark and Russia in the round of 16 and quarters respectively, were far from impressive.
They survived against England in a gritty battle in the semifinals. However, a dominant France blew them away in the final. It is easy to see why Croatia’s performance hasn’t been rated highly. But, in any major international tournament, perseverance is usually the way forward. It is the results that come after, that speak to their edge.
The Qualifiers and the Nations League
Ever since the 4-2 loss at the hands of France in the World Cup final, Croatia have seen a major dip in their form in the competitions that followed. In the UEFA Nations League, the Croats stuttered and barely escaped relegation after losing five of their six matches. They had even dominated possession in three of those matches, only to see their opponents take the victory away at the end of the day.
Even in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, their start have been sketchy. Although they have two wins in three matches, their solitary loss came against minnows Slovenia, while their two victories were against underdogs Cyprus and Malta.
Their Euro 2020 qualifiers were not without trouble either. Placed in a group with Slovakia, Hungary, Azerbaijan and Wales, Croatia were supposed to breeze through. Although they ended up finishing first, they had to labour through the matches, which included a 2-1 loss to fourth-placed Hungary and a 1-1 draw against fifth-placed Azerbaijan.
From 4th to 14th
Their dip has impacted their ranking as well. The Zlatko Dalic-led team finished the 2018 World Cup ranked fourth in the world but has since dropped down to 14th. While the underdog tag might suit their style, the continuous below-average performances will be a huge concern for Dalic. After the high expectations set by the final appearance in Russia, the pressure will be on the Croats to maintain their status quo.
This year’s Euro 2020 would be the chance for Croatia to break free and establish themselves as one of the European elites in world football. Being placed in a group containing England, Scotland and Czech Republic, they would be expected to go through the next round comfortably.
But it would be during the knockout stages, that their mettle would be put to test. Croatia will have to prove their status in a comprehensive fashion. Any misstep would put their 2018 run with the likes of 2016 Wales and 2002 Turkey side, a one-time-high. However, if they want to stay firmly within the elite, Euro 2020 would be Croatia’s trial by fire.