HRVATSKA Starting XI: Subašić, Srna, Ćorluka, Vida, Pranjić, Brozović, Modrić, Rakitić, Kovačić, Kramarić Mandžukić
Well, where has that been?
And I’m not talking about the scoreline or the goals. But I’m talking about the speed and urgency from this Croatian side. Just three days ago, Croatia played one of their poorest matches to date in Bulgaria; needing an own goal to win 1-0. The team looked slow and uninterested. So what happened over the weekend? Because team morale looks to be back up.
Nothing was reported publicly, but with Nikica Jelavić quitting the national team, we can only speculate that manager Niko Kovač pushed him out for having a “bad attitude” for not being played Friday night.
The atmosphere at Gradski Vrt in Osijek was electric and the Vatreni never took their foot off the gas for 90 minutes. Albeit Croatia played Azerbaijan, a team that is ranked 95th in the world and has never qualified for a major tournament, they played to crush Monday night. Rijeka’s Andrej Kramarić got the start and looked like he was playing with jet fuel in his veins for the first half, bagging his second goal for Croatia in the 11th minute. The 23 year-old looked like Ivica Olić in his prime.
Ivan Perišić came on for an injured Mateo Kovačić in the 24th minute and bagged two header goals (34′,45′) to put Croatia up 3-0. Marcelo Brozović would add a nice left-footed shot just inside the left post in first half injury time to make it 4-0 going into halftime.
But Croatia did not stop there and appeared to be looking for more goals. Luka Modrić would add a penalty shot before Ivan Perišić’s cross would be kicked in by the Azerbaijan captain to make it 6-0. Croatia could have easily scored 10 goals this match. Not because of the lack in competition, but because they all hustled and played to their ability.
Where was this kind of urgency against Malta, Iceland, and yes, Mexico in the past year? It wasn’t there. At all.
And now Croatia’s morale should be high going into their lone November qualifier against Italy in Milan. And what does Italy’s mere 2-1 win over Azerbaijan on Friday say about them? The match was tied all the way up to the 82nd minute.
And although Croatia and Italy should top the group and qualify automatically, this will be a statement game for Croatia. Italy has never defeated their Adriatic Sea neighbors and pride will be on the line come November 16th at the San Siro.