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
At 32 years old, Modric will be fine for the next World Cup. His ability to hold the ball, pass and read the game will not be diminished and his quickness will be fine – think of how effective Pirlo was at 36! Regardless, the Spain game showed there’s more than enough talent otherwise to continuing being a very strong team. Also don’t write off Kovacic yet, he’s only 22 and has loads of talent. His issue is that his ideal role is where Modric sits for us and Real Madrid. A move back to Italy showed help his development immensely.
As I’ve posted before, this team will waltz thru the next round of WC qualifiers. I’m hoping to see Pjaca as an automatic starter as well as Jedvaj and Rog given an increasing amount of minutes. Halilovic needs to be given time as either a late game sub or as a starter on the wing when Pjaca or Perisic are unavailable (or rested).
Bringing Lovern back into the fold would be good (if only for depth), Vida is all heart but his skill level (passing especially) is painful to watch at times. Kalinic needs more opportunities and if Kramaric has a good year, so should he. I like Mandzo but his finish rate is problematic.
I agree with BZ, I’m glad Cacic is back. Atmosphere from the Euro’s needs to be kept going and his overall team/tactics selection suits this bunch of players.
@DannyJ- i think it is cool that you think it would be cool. I respect that opinion. Guys like Modric and many ’98 players were incredible while they played in the domestic league.
To all- I still say I like what Cacic has done with this team. No foreign coach would do much better, without making our team look like Portugal/France (recruiting Africans to migrate and play for Croatia.). We had two beautiful tactical games (turkey,Czechs). He was smart to play the counter vs Spain. Was a bit conservative vs Portugal, but the stats show we dominated them. Portugal turned out to be a tough nut to crack. One bad sequence, & some miserable refereeing were the only thing wrong with the Portugal game.
1st there will never be another player like Modric for Cro?
Common man! We’ve been pumping superstars for almost 30 years. My prediction: we will eventually have a player if not better, equal to Modric we are a soccer factory like no other.
2nd we will be treated like gold in Russia. I don’t think they forgot the favour we did for them by eliminating England and getting them into Euro 2008.
3rd doesn’t matter how good we do in qualifying the ending will always be the same. Until we change or mentality it will be status quo. How do you change? First the entire federation gets cleaned up and second we need to change how we think “qualifying for the knockout stages is not good enough”
Ciro is an idiot but that’s the one thing he did right and that’s what Santos did. You need to make sure the players are convinced we are here to be champions and everything else is failure. Cro ’98 bronze Portugal ’16 Champions. That’s how you eliminate that stupid mental midget syndrome. None of this bullshit were just happy to be here everything else a bonus. What a stupid mentality and you wonder why we fail?
Last. We are stacked for the the next 10 years. If history indicates anything revenge is sweet and we will spank Portugal in the near future. The best thing about soccer everything comes full circle, everything.
Kovacic was the only player I’ve seen at a young age that has shown he could be somewhat at the same level as modric one day. That has stopped though since he joined real and appears to be stagnant and even regressing in ability. Modric hopefully can keep up the next few years. He relies heavily on his quickness. Once he loses that first step he won’t be the same.
Iniesta is 32 and people were gushing over him during the early stages of tournament. I think Modric is more than capable of still playing at a high level at 32 years old. After that, hopefully Kovacic, Coric, Pasalic, etc are ready to step up. You can even include Brozovic in that list, as he’ll be entering his prime and prefers to play as a central midfield.
A lot of the tournaments stars were gassed. The long season affected Modric and others. He’s so relied upon at Madrid and he was banged up. I don’t think its a matter of stars like him not wanting it as bad as the next guy its just that they’re a little too fatigued and that can throw your timing off in everything just a bit.
Wouldn’t mind if he missed a chunk of the season before Russia ’18 as long as it wasn’t anything he couldnt come back from fully.
I don’t agree about corluka. He’s already slow as hell. A CB of his style could be consistent until 36.
Modrić will begin to decline by the next World Cup, but it’s not like he was 100% in this tournament either. If he stays healthy, his impact will be the same.
The only other vets who will be declining will be Ćorluka (who’s not entirely critical to our success) and Mandžukić.
Honestly, we’re better off without Mandžo anyway. He’s a good striker, but is simply not a good fit for the style we play. I seriously believe in Kramarić and his style being a perfect fit for us. Two years in the Bundesliga and he’ll be our starter at the World Cup.
I appreciate the optimism that is to come out of reading these articles….however i don’t think we will ever have a player like modric in our lifetime play for Croatia. He will be 33 by the World Cup and most likely declining. Highly doubt this crop of talent on paper will be replicated ever again. All of the top players in their prime this tournament. Next one will be the crossover to the next generation
Ziva don’t worry about Russia for the WC- Putin knows how to throw a party- he loves Slavs and we’ll be treated like kings- Guaranteed
Right on Meta body- Croatia is raising stallions and being coached by donkeys- what can we do but pray to God that we have a change in the dominating regime that will allow us to get a real coach one day
If it’s true that Pjaca is going to Juventus, then it’s a great sign.
I wasn’t too crazy to hear him going to Milan or even Napoli. But Juventus really knows how to develop their young players. It’s probably why he wants to go there, but Juve are very shrewd and are probably offering the least amount out of the three. Hopefully it works out.
Which other Croatian qualified coaches did we have to choose as our coach instead of Cacic?
Thank you. I think Cacic’s coaching ability is well documented from this tournament. His starting lineups were excellent for the most part. I know some people wanted Pjaca over Brozovic and Kalinic over Mandzukic for Portugal game, but that wasn’t going to happen. Mandzukic is still the preferred choice based on his resume. Meanwhile, Pjaca isn’t very battle tested and Brozovic tracks back to help Srna. Can’t get upset about those decisions. His in-game management was pretty lousy for the most part. Not using a sub (ignore putting Kovacic on for an injured Modric) before the 85th minute made zero sense. That desperately needs to be improved on.
Thank you. Really excited about Pjaca. Just hope they actually use him properly. Looks like a true difference maker.
Thank you. I got a good feeling that this will be the first qualifying campaign since Euro 2008, where Croatia will avoid playoffs/not qualifying at all. There is no Italy or Belgium like the last two qualifying groups. Iceland could be frustrating, but they will likely drop points elsewhere. Also excited to see Croatia play Turkey again. Always enjoy seeing them beat the Turks.
I’m actually planning to go. I started watching around 2006 World Cup. Didn’t start understanding the sport until the Euro qualifiers started, while watching Modric, Corluka, etc. I always wanted to see Croatia play live. I did see Modric and Corluka in 2010 at Red Bull Stadium, when they played for Tottenham. It was cool, but obviously pre-season friendly doesn’t offer much. I really want to see them both play live, before they retire internationally. 2020 Euro Cup is too far away. I know Russia is sketchy, but so was Brazil. Think we’ll all make it out alive. No chance I’d ever go to Qatar. That WC is going to be so lame, if it stays there.
Man the Portugal Coach shows you what is possible when you have a real resume calling the shots.
The best player in Europe gets chopped down in the beginning of the match.
You throw in Quaresma and switch tactics right away to a 4-1, 4-1.
Then in the second half you bring on Moutinho and Eder which allows Nani to fan out wide and Eder to dominate the middle air space.
Mental midget disease is with our coaches NOT the players.
Modric needs to be captain going forward (if he is interested in playing anymore?).
Cacic needs to find a lower league club in Europe to make some money and build new chapter in his career.
Can you imagine what could of been ?
Anyone have an idea if there’s a way i can watch the u-19 game July 12?
It wouldn’t be cool. You want your players to play in the best leagues and develop.
We will be fine in qualifying.
Bet, one the WC comes around, we will still have a coach qualified to lead second division sides calling the shots? And we will mental midget disease show itself again?
BTW, I know it is 2 yrs out, but is anyone planning to go to Russia. Very hesitant when that topic was mentioned in France. I almost rather go to Qatar.
how cool would it be if HNL was stronger and guys would stay around and play with each other
then we would be top quality at world level consistently
thanks for the writeup
i think most will be agreed upon
something tells me we will be ready for world cup qualifying in sept
a tough group is good… will keep the guys fighting hard throughout and we should qualify…
Excellent write up and analysis!
And I too am excited by the emergence of Pjaca on the wing. Just like you need two wings to fly an airplane, with Perisic on one wing, and Pjaca on the other, Croatia will be flying high!
Nice write up Allen. While I like the veteran players, I do also like the line-up with played against Spain. That version of the team played with passion.
So a blending of vets and youth/new faces maybe the way to go. I would really like to see Halilovic get a short with this team.
I see you didn’t comment on our manger. I wonder what the future holds for him.