A lot to unpack from this match, but at the end of the day, a win on the road in an incredibly tough environment is all that matters. With the victory, Croatia rectify their last second Welsh blunder to take four points from their first two EURO 2024 qualifying matches; which is more than fine. The Vatreni are now tied atop the table with Wales. Turkey trail both by a point. Top two nations automatically qualify for EURO 2024 in Germany.
This match was a tale of the first 15 minutes…and everything else. Turkey absolutely dominated the first quarter hour of the match and should have been up 2-0 if it wasn’t for two amazing saves by Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper Dominik Livaković. Even with Kovačić scoring both goals this game, Livaković is my MOTM as he saved the day for Croatia. If both of those goals go in and Turkey is up 2-0 in the 10th minute at home, forget about it. Maybe we’re sitting here playing the blame game with each other while Croatia sit on one point through 25% of their qualifying campaign.
I’ve never been a fan of Livaković. His box presence and aerial ability scare the shit out of me. However, maybe the guy is finally maturing into the goalkeeper we all thought he would be. He was lights out at the World Cup and he singlehandedly bailed out Croatia’s poor start in Turkey Tuesday night.
Kovačić is the offensive hero of the night, deservedly so. He came out of nowhere on both goals to score his fourth and fifth all time goals for Croatia. In a time where the Croatian strike force has been anemic, especially looking at the #9 role, we know that goals will have to come from elswhere. And that was Mateo Kovačić on the night. Mario Pašalić missed an absolute sitter in the 2nd half which would have sealed the game. Unfortunately, he deflected the ball right at the Turkish goalie from point-blank range.
Now, let’s get to the criticism. This was far from a good game in terms of Croatian play and Dalić tactics.
As mentioned above, without super saves from Livaković, Turkey would have easily been up 2-0 before the seats ever got warm in Bursa. The team was in absolute shambles once the match started. I’ve never seen our midfield make so many bad passes. The 1st half was the worst half of midfield passing I have ever seen from Modrić and Brozović. They handed the ball to Turkish players multiple times in dangerous positions. So unlike them.
Why is Pašalić starting ahead of Juranović on the right wing? Pašalić is a liability defensively and has been out of form (injury) with Atalanta this season. Juranović has now been playing right wing for Union Berlin in a 3-5-2 formation like an absolute superstar the past three months. That was the obvious decision for me.
Borna Barišić got the start at left-back for Croatia in lieu of Sosa. Maybe this is a wake up call for Sosa but Barišić is a standard international defender in my opinion and a solid back-up at best. He can defend well but doesn’t have much speed up the sidelines. I’ll take this as a wake up call from Dalić to Sosa. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Finally, when will Dalić learn you can’t play Kramarić in the #9 role? Straight up or false 9. He needs room on the field to run and dribble. He’s not a hold-up striker. The reason he scored against Wales on Saturday is because he was playing the right wing, not striker. Livaja was. Krama didn’t see the ball in the 1st half against Turkey. It’s almost a wasted spot in the starting XI to put him there. I understand Dalić doesn’t have many striker options at his disposal, but use new guy Musa because Krama will always be wasted there. That’s a foregone conclusion.
The next time we see Croatia in EURO 2024 qualifying will be September when they take on Armenia and Latvia. The Vatreni will take the month of June off from qualifying as they will take part in the UEFA Nations League semifinals (and hopefully) final instead.