One could be forgiven for thinking that some of Croatia’s second string players are not too bothered about their chances of securing a starting berth for Sunday evening’s last 16 tie against Denmark. Coach Zlatko Dalić gave several of his reserves a chance to impress against Iceland last night but, truth be told, very few of them did enough to justify a place in his starting XI ahead of the weekend’s match in Nizhny Novgorod.
Yes, they earned a hard fought 2-1 victory, ensuring that their country qualified for the next round with maximum points. However, there was no real spark to their performance in what was a fairly woeful match for the neutral to indulge themselves in. Quality was lacking on both sides, while flashes of inspiration were very few and far between. As expected, Croatia enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but were generally far too slow on the ball to make it count for much.
Marko Pjaca, who was heralded as Croatia’s brightest prospect upon his arrival at Juventus two years ago, failed to take advantage of his opportunity. He was far too ponderous with the ball at his feet and appeared to lack the incisiveness required to make a difference at the very highest level. The same can be said for many of Croatia’s stars who were, in all fairness, lucky to emerge from the match with all three points. Indeed, Iceland will quite rightly feel they did enough to earn all three points.
As for Mateo Kovačić, one moment in the 79th minute perfectly summed up his display. The Real Madrid midfielder had a chance to shoot from the edge of the penalty box, but instead opted to send a misplaced pass to his left-hand side. It was typical of his lacklustre display and was indicative of the fact so many feel he is yet to improve his all-round game since leaving Inter for Los Blancos in 2015. The fact he was substituted shortly after speaks volumes for what his coach thought of it.
Naturally, Luka Modrić and Ivan Perišić played a huge part in everything that Croatia did well against their Icelandic counterparts. As ever, Modrić was the most composed man on the pitch by a country mile, while Perišić capped off another energetic performance with a fine finish as the match drew to a close. There is no doubt that they will both be vitally important to Croatia’s chances of reaching the quarter-finals, given their experience of dealing with the highest-pressure situations.
While Denmark will of course provide a stern test, and possess a true world class talent of their own in Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen, Croatia will go into the match as favourites and filled with confidence. Dalić will restore the likes of Domagoj Vida, Ivan Rakitić and Mario Mandžukić to his starting line-up and we will, in all probability, see a performance much improved on what was served up last night. It is time for the coach to count on those he can trust, and that means going down the tried and tested route.
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