After two weeks of processing Croatia’s harsh exit from Euro 2016, it’s time to evaluate the entire squad’s performance and future. This was a very productive tournament for almost every player on the national team. With only one player expected to retire, they should carry the positive momentum going into 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Here is my brief evaluation for every player.
Danijel Subasic: Due to Croatia’s commanding performances, the Monaco keeper wasn’t tested very often. He could have done better on Czech Republic’s first goal, as Subasic didn’t react to Milan Skoda’s header. Although the penalty save will always be critiqued for being two yards off the line, it was still an incredible moment. That save inspired their comeback against Spain. He will remain as Croatia’s number one goalkeeper.
Lovre Kalinic: Didn’t feature in the tournament.
Ivan Vargic: Didn’t feature in the tournament.
Darijo Srna: Many considered him to be the biggest liability. The captain ended up being one of Croatia’s best players. Terrific performances against Czech Republic and Spain stood out from making key tackles, while never being caught out of position. Deserved a goal against Turkey after hitting the cross bar on a free kick and missed rebound. There is talk about him playing one more tournament. He should retire on a high note. At 34 years old, Srna can’t continue handling such a demanding position for another two years.
Vedran Corluka: Another player, who silenced critics following four strong performances. His last-ditch tackle against Turkey in the final minute solidified a crucial emotional win. Battled with a head injury during most of the tournament. After being questioned about his desire, Corluka put everything on the line. The water polo cap will always be beloved by fans. Despite being mostly a reserved individual, Corluka made a strong case for being Croatia’s next captain.
Domagoj Vida: Despite his aggressive play complimenting Corluka’s technical defensive style, Vida wasn’t convincing enough to be Croatia’s long-term starter. From a silly handball penalty against Czech Republic to not preventing Ronaldo from getting the ball on Portugal’s late goal, he was exploited in critical moments. Also was at fault for Turkey’s best chance by mistiming his jump on a cross. Vida has made great strides as a center back. Consistency still remains an issue.
Ivan Strinic: For his offensive shortcomings, Strinic made up for it defensively. He gave Croatia much-needed stability at a troublesome position. Trying to earn a foul, while losing the ball in a precarious position against Portugal will always haunt him. He needs to make it a priority to leave Napoli and receive first-team opportunities elsewhere. With no left backs emerging from the academy, Strinic should remain as a starter.
Sime Vrsaljko: The new Atletico Madrid signing will be utilized as a right back going forward. In his lone appearance, Vrsaljko looked extremely uncomfortable at left back. Spain targeted him on several occasions, which proved to be successful. Harshly called for a penalty on David Silva, but made up for it with a goal-line clearance in the final minute. That clearance didn’t receive enough recognition. Without Vrsajlko’s block, it would have been another last-minute heartbreaker for Croatia.
Tin Jedvaj: The youngest defender on the squad will hopefully learn from a difficult performance against Spain. His positioning was exploited on Spain’s lone goal, along with his inability to mark Sergio Ramos on multiple corners. Jedvaj played better in the second half and earned valuable experience. If he stays healthy, his upside is endless.
Gordon Schildenfeld: A valuable role player, but he may not be called up going forward. If Dejan Lovren gets back into Ante Cacic’s good graces, that will likely force him out of the squad. Schildenfield’s lack of athleticism makes him a liability at times.
Luka Modric: A groin injury prevented him from being one of the players of the tournament. Modric was incredible against Turkey and carried it over against Czech Republic. A combination of passing, control, and decision-making makes him one of the best central midfielders in the world. His below-average performance against Portugal will unfortunately be remembered. Modric is the most likely candidate to be Croatia’s next captain.
Ivan Rakitic: After years of underperforming for the national team, Rakitic flourished in a number ten role. No player took more grueling tackles than him. A sublime chip over Petr Cech was rightfully deserved in a man of match performance against Czech Republic. His set-piece delivery was disappointing, especially against Portugal. With Srna likely retired, he will be taking full control on set pieces.
Ivan Perisic: If he isn’t considered world class yet, the star winger isn’t very off. Besides Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann, no player has performed better in this tournament. His pace, dribbling, crossing, and work ethic will attract plenty of interest from major clubs. Croatia’s most reliable goal scorer is entering his prime at 27 years old.
Marcelo Brozovic: Not an ideal winger, but can’t play as a holding midfielder either. Brozovic holds up the ball extremely well for a player of his stature. With Modric and Rakitic, he can’t play in a more preferred central role. Brozovic’s versatility will always be valuable. That being said, his inability to take on defenders prevents him from making a real impact on the wing. He may have to accept a bench role, when Croatia is at full strength.
Milan Badelj: After being an unused backup at two major tournaments, Badelj finally earned a spot in the starting eleven. He wasn’t as consistent as some would expect from watching him at Fiorentina. The inclusion of Badelj did provide balance in an attack-minded midfield. His performance against Spain was essential for them to nullify their star-studded midfield. Inconsistency did plague him at times, as he struggled against Turkey and Portugal. For the first time since Niko Kovac, Croatia appears to have a quality defensive midfielder.
Marko Rog: One of the more controversial call-ups, due to playing for Dinamo Zagreb and never being considered as a standout prospect. Rog silenced critics with an inspiring display against Spain. He constantly harassed Andres Iniesta and tried to get involved as much as possible. A potential future starting defensive midfielder, as Croatia needs them rather than another attacking playmaker.
Mateo Kovacic: It has been a difficult year for Kovacic. He was partially responsible for Czech Republic’s first goal by losing possession in Croatia’s own half. As the emerging star matures, he needs to find the balance between playing aggressive and remaining patient. His tendency of being solely attack-minded causes him to lose possession far too often. Whether it takes a loan or full transfer, Kovacic can’t afford to waste another season on Real Madrid’s bench.
Ante Coric: Didn’t feature in the tournament.
Mario Mandzukic: One of the most disappointing players in the tournament. A long season at Juventus and other injuries may have affected him. Mandzukic wasted good scoring opportunities against Turkey and Czech Republic. He will likely enter World Cup qualifiers as a starter, but should be on a short leash following an underwhelming display at the Euros.
Nikola Kalinic: After eight years of not being good enough to play for Croatia at a major tournament, the oft-criticized striker made his mark. Kalinic was outstanding against Spain from holding up the ball to linking up with Perisic. He also scored a beautiful back heel goal from a clever run behind Sergio Ramos. There are still limits to his game, as shown by his wastefulness against Portugal. He is still a useful squad player.
Marko Pjaca: The new hot prospect in Croatia appears to be the answer opposite Perisic. Pjaca’s fearlessness, dribbling ability, and creativity offer another strong attacking outlet. He uses his body well for a young player, as Spain needed two players to dispossess him. Needs to be inserted into the starting eleven under some capacity. That needs to start against Turkey on September fifth.
Andrej Kramaric: Only played in brief moments during the tournament. His willingness to take on defenders is refreshing compared to other strikers in the squad. Kramaric is filled with pace and makes intelligent runs to get behind defenders. Another productive season at Hoffenheim could thrust him into a more prominent role.
Duje Cop: The Dinamo Zagreb striker came on briefly against Spain. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever play a substantial role for the national team.
Players that could eventually return during qualifiers: Dejan Lovren, Josip Pivaric, Alen Halilovic, and Ante Rebic