Written by Rob Uvanović
2020 2021 is less than a month away and it’s time to start getting excited about the fixtures. Qualifiers, the Nations League (aka glorified friendlies) and actual friendlies only get the juices flowing so much as we’ve seen from recent Vatreni performances – so it’s time to turn things on again in a big way.
As a supporter, the question still stands the same as it did 18 months ago when the draw was made – what is Croatia’s best case scenario in Group D? Even with all of this extra time to think about it – it’s not clear-cut what Croatian fans are actually rooting for given the complexities of finishing first in the group.
If Croatia’s last game was against England, where both sides had already qualified, it would be a lot easier to pull a stunt like England did in 2018 v. Belgium and ensure an “easier path” to the final by not winning. However, as we play England first, and we don’t have any God-given right to progress given the way we have been playing, I expect the squad to come out firing, regardless of the fact that 1st place in Group D is objectively a worse proposition than finishing 2nd.
While Croatia are without doubt a better team than the Czech Republic and Scotland, both can and will prove to be tricky fixtures, especially with Scotland playing at home. Given the COVID-19 restrictions, it’s also very unlikely that we’ll see and hear any Croatian fans in the stadiums (entering Scotland from the EU currently requires a 10-day mandated paid hotel quarantine which appears to be sticking at least through the group stage). With a heavy heart, Ante and I both already returned our tickets knowing that it simply wasn’t feasible to attend as a supporter living outside the UK and I’m sure many Croatians are in the same boat. We will miss the vocal backing of the Croatian supporters, and thus these games will be true away games.
So, what could Croatia’s path look like for the knockout stage?
- R16 – London: Runner-up of Group F (Almost certainly 1 of France / Germany / Portugal)
- R8 – Rome: Likely Spain
- R16 – Copenhagen: Runner-up of Group E (likely to be either Sweden or Poland)
- R8 – St. Petersburg: Almost certainly one of France / Germany / Portugal
3rd place – depending upon other results, Croatia could be placed into 1 of 3 different R16 slots:
- Slot 1:
- R16 – Glasgow: Group E Winner (likely Spain)
- R8 – Likely England in Rome
- Slot 2:
- R16 – Budapest: Group C Winner (likely Holland)
- R8 – Likely Denmark/Russia in Baku
- Slot 3:
- Seville – Group B Winner (likely Belgium)
- R8 – Likely Italy in Munich
Make no mistake about it – you have to beat the best to win the trophy, but I certainly won’t be shedding any tears over finishing 2nd in Group D and avoiding an incredibly challenging path to the final that would likely necessitate wins v. Portugal/France, Spain and Holland. We all know what happened in 2018 with the “easier path” and unluckily pulling a 3rd place Portugal in 2016 – you have to play the games, but the bracket does matter.
Yet, don’t count me in the boat of being happy if we lose v. England – a loss would leave us needing to make sure we get a result against the Czechs – and as we know, anything can happen in one game. I’d like to see full throttle v. the English and the Czechs, and if we’re already qualified, then we can play the kids v. Scotland.
CroatianSports nation, what do you think? We all know what this squad is capable of when playing at full potential and we aren’t scared of playing anyone – but I believe we are better off finishing 2nd to set up a better bracket for the Vatreni at EURO 2021.