The U21 side, filled with loads of talent from Luka Sučić to Roko Šimić to Stipe Biuk to Martin Baturina, could not have possibly made it harder on themselves to qualify for next summer’s EURO. But at the end of the day, they got the job done.
The Mladi Vatreni completely bottled their group stage efforts to finish first and automatically qualify for the tournament. After going a perfect 6-0 to start the campaign, Igor Bišćan and his boys dropped points in three of the last four qualifiers to gift Norway top spot in group. Croatia drew Austria and lost to Finland on home soil and then allowed not one, but TWO injury time goals to Norway that helped them leap frog Croatia.
I did watch any of these games in depth so I can’t comment, but it sounds like manager Igor Bišćan did not do any favors for this team down the stretch with his selection of players or tactics. Many close to the team complained how Biuk, Baturina, and Šimić did not get regular time while choosing to bunker late in games up a goal instead of going for the jugular. This U21 team is stacked full of offensive talent and should be allowed to score 3-4 goals per game instead of bunkering down to lesser opponents.
Croatia U21s defeated Denmark in Pula last week 2-1 even though the Mladi Vatreni were up 2-0 early in the match. They only needed a draw in Denmark Tuesday night but conceded twice in the 1st half to put their tournament hopes at risk. Luckily, St. Pauli’s Igor Matanović leveled the tie at 3-3 on aggregate with a goal in the 84th minute. The game would go goalless through extra time with a penalty kick shootout the decider. PAOK goalie Dominik Kotarski would deny Denmark on two penalties with Marco Pašalić won the shootout in the 5th round.
There is absolutely no reason this team shouldn’t go far in the tournament next summer, let alone not qualify. It sounds like the coach is the problem and should let these kids run like wild stallions instead of holding them back.
If Croatia can finish top three in the tournament, they would also book a berth at the 2024 summer Olympics in Paris; where all teams are comprised of U23 players as well as three senior players of their choice. Imagine Luka Modrić running around with the kids on his way to a GOLD MEDAL. It’d be a pretty cool scene if you ask me.