Croatia’s 2022-23 Nations League group stage campaign is now halfway done. The Vatreni currently sit third place in Group A after splitting their first three matches equally between the win, loss, and draw columns. As the tournament progresses, the squad continues to look better and better each match, and most recently escaped Copenhagen with all three points against a strong Denmark side. However, what can supporters really take from a “glorified friendly” tournament in which Croatia was demolished by Austria, yet managed to earn points against France and Denmark?
- First and foremost, this tournament is absolutely 100% not a preview of how Croatia will look at the 2022 World Cup – and the same goes for each team in the competition. Croatia, just like every other powerhouse European squad, are not throwing their A-team onto the pitch in the Nations League. It is also obvious that the interest in competing in this tournament is low amongst most established players. Due to injury, rest, and experimental purposes, Dalić has mixed members of the Vatreni’s A and B teams into the starting XI, and in some cases (vs. Denmark) has started a lineup of strictly substitutes with one solidified starter (Brozović) to anchor the squad. Croatia’s projected starting XI for the World Cup in November has not played a single minute of the tournament together on the pitch. Without the likes of Ivan Perišić, Joško Gvardiol, and Borna Sosa, all benched due to injury, it is impossible to comprehend the current state of the squad as a whole and make bold predictions for the upcoming World Cup. We know that Croatia’s A-team is dangerous and can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world. Any lineup short of our current A-team is not worth judging this time of the year, considering that each player just concluded a 30-50 match long season just a few weeks ago. However, there is a lot to be said about some individual performances we’ve witnessed through the first three matches of this UNL campaign…
- Lots of Croatians enjoy talking about what Mario Pašalić is not, but let’s talk about what he is – a goalscorer. In the last year, Pašalić has scored game winners in crucial matches against Cyprus and Denmark and an equalizer against Spain at Euro 2020. Yes, his technical play might not pass the eye test, but his goalscoring abilities have come to life in recent months, even finishing as Serie A’s highest scoring midfielder this past season. It baffles me that Dalić is yet to experiment with Pašalić at the striker position despite countless opportunities to do so. Pašalić will not start in the midfield come November, as long as the squad is healthy, but could be a valuable asset up top alongside Kramarić or off the bench in a match in which the Vatreni need a goal. Think of him as this generation’s Ivica Olić. Not the prettiest goals, bit being in the right place at the right time is sometimes 90% of the battle.
- Depth at the centerback position is looking strong! Martin Erlić has been excellent, and Josip Šutalo looks to be the superstar talent we’ve predicted he’d be. Let’s begin with Erlić, 24 years of age and playing for Spezia in Serie A (on loan from Sassuolo). Dalić called on him to start alongside an aging Vida versus France in front of a wild Poljud atmosphere; coming off an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Austria. This all came during his senior international debut as well. In a match where Croatia could’ve lost by five goals, Erlić held it together and showcased a superb performance in his first appearance in senior checkers. The youngster logged a 7.1 FotMob rating and won 100% of his ground duels while completing 93% of his passes. Dalić handed Erlić another start vs. Denmark only three days later, and he looked just as good against their dangerous A-team in Copenhagen. Now, let’s talk about 22 year-old future star Josip Šutalo, currently playing for Dinamo Zagreb. Šutalo was called upon to make his international debut in a start against Denmark, and held them to zero goals alongside Erlić. Šutalo, Croatia’s most impressive starter, finished the match with a ridiculous 7.6 FotMob rating and was flawless in the back. The inexperienced duo of Šutalo and Erlić formed a brick wall in the back third of the pitch that Denmark couldn’t beat. The Vatreni managed to allow only one goal in two tough games with a debutant center-back. Add Joško Gvardiol to that mix of talent, and Croatia’s future in that area of the field is looking really, really bright.
- The HNS must continue to integrate young talent into the senior roster, especially during Nations League and friendly matches. U-21 players such as Luka Sučić, Josip Stanišić, and Josip Šutalo provided instant sparks to the matches they featured in. Everyone knows that Luka Ivanušec, Kristijan Jakić, and Borna Barišić are good for bad to average performances at best, whereas Sučić’s run led to Kramarić’s penalty goal vs. France and Stanišić gave Croatia the boost they needed on the flank against Denmark. Generally, we know which players will be key for the squad in the future, so why not give them the exposure they need at a higher level? Just saying, Joško Gvardiol would have been a lot better at Euro 2020 had he seen international time on the pitch before debuting in the world’s second largest tournament.
Happy 100th birthday to the Savez
May it go for another 100years without interruption
Apologies I meant 110
Re Kramaric: I think our formation doesn’t get the best out of him but we can’t change the overall style CRO plays for 1 player. We need to find a way to incorporate Kramaric as a supporting striker. That’s been his main position in club play most of the time or in a 4-3-3 get him to somehow drift between the lines of Mid and Forward and operate as an attacking mid/supporting striker. Unless that happens I think he will continue to perform the way he has for the national team.
You can see he is technically gifted, he is just best when he has space on the move with defenders backing up. Cro rarely has that if Perisic is not on.
We also play a slower tiki taka-esque style of mali nogomet where in Germany he is more used to direct play off of fast breaks. I think this is why we see him do more at club level.
He is not one to press defenders like Mandza did. Aside from Budimir we don’t have a striker that will put pressure on the opposing teams backline when they are in possession. I think Croatia was spoiled with that aspect from Mandza and Olic before him.
All in all, I think we’re going to play without an out and out striker/center forward unless we see something from someone from now until the WC. I personally think our brand of possession based soccer fits a false nine. Remember at the WC in 2018 (I know it’s been a few years now), there was a stat where Cro had goals from the most players.
* Belgium had more goals as a team but they also played Tunisia and Panama. CRO was the only team to have players with 1, 2 and 3 goals. We even had 2 players with 3 goals which no other country had.
You raise a valid point, and the goal scoring capacity of Belgium was something that caught my eye. They were without their main goal scorer and yet they popped six goals in against Poland.
It may be worth the while looking into style and formation only because we are struggling as much as we are to find someone who is a striker. However, I don’t think the majority of players on the team necessarily fit that style, they don’t all play in Spain with style of possession based football. So players like,Kramaric, Pasalic, Budimir, other players on the squad even Perisic for example. They all don’t play that style and may have a difficult time adjusting.
While I like the idea it’s a matter of how to fit that game play with all of the players currently on the team, I don’t think they can all fit within that formation and style but then again I might be wrong.
The big question is who would take the false nine position, I am not sure who would fit that role. It didn’t work out for Modric against Barcelona, so I am not sure that he has it in him to do, Kovacic I don’t think can and neither Brozovic they are too defensive in style. Maybe Majer, I could only see him as that player who possibly could but then again is he ready for something like that and has he played in a club where it’s like that. These are questions to consider, we possibly could at some point but that requires a lot of planning and forethought and required a lot of changed and consideration. Although people may disagree, I think Livaja could also take that role possibly he has a knack for vision and is fairly smart with the ball, many scouting reports have commented on this, but his club isn’t a strong one either and then again it’s risky. I would have to see how they operate in a similar position before that gets the okay.
Supposedly Pasalic is expected to start on the right wing. USELESS!!!
If we fans can see why this makes zero sense, why can’t someone like Dalic?
Dalic really loves Pasalic on the wing, lol.
Maybe some of the other players are back like Musa, Livaja. I guess we will have to wait and see tomorrow what Dalic is planning. I am okay with these ideas if he is willing to make changes at the half like he did against Denmark. They need to be quick decisions to see if things have an impact, I think resting Kovacic and Modric was good, maybe now Brozovic deserves some rest instead, the guy has played every match I think.
Maybe use Majer, try Pasalic up front once see if it works, give Krama a rest. Play Budimir and Pasalic if the other guys are not available. The. Substitute if it’s needed.
This is the only way to know if something can work.
Broz has played alot. If we’re gonna rest anyone, it should be him…but we shouldn’t be handicapping ourselves in the first half like we did with Denmark.
Last game, we had talent like Sučić and Majer on the bench, but idiotically opted to start Ivanušec and Jakić instead.
Majer plays in France, so I could see him playing well there.
I’d start Modrić and Kovačić in the midfield, with Majer in front of them.
If we need to make changes, then we have Sučić, Broz, Krama, and Pašalić who could sub in (depending on the formation).
Our players have a big break after this, so there shouldn’t be any resting of players.
If we manage a draw in France, then our chances of not being relegated are solid (and our reputation can finally begin its recovery).
Would be pretty cool to see Nedeljko Labrović get 45 minutes in goal. I’m just being a dreamer though.
Since we’re giving high grades for Erlic and Sutalo, have there been any transfer news or rumors regarding both? Also include Sucic on transfer front, I know transfer news won’t come until July but curious if any knows any potential landing spots
Having witnessed 1998 and the build up- we had young guys starting to challenge the old guard and once one of them separated the other young guns started to feel they belong- I predict 2 or 3 more surprises coming through Pasalic ,Sutulo , Erlic and one more- maybe Sucic – the kids are going to be alright- I just like them to challenge more- look for a few more now that a few of the kids are showing something- Gvardiol not in the list because to me he’s already cleared the rookie status -just my opinion.
I agree with comments about Pasalic, he consistently scores goals for us this cannot be overlooked. Whereas Kramaric struggles a bit in this regard, he is definitely capable but the consistency is the issue with him and he struggles in that role which is why I see him only as a supporting striker form the National squad.
Krama has had 3 to 4 great seasons with Bundesliga but when it come to the national squad he struggles I am not sure why.
But Pasalic has taken up the task and come through for us multiple times. I would definitely give him the shot up front and see if it works. Give the guy a couple of opportunities and see.
Personally I favour the pairing of Budimir and Pasalic up front. I like Budimir’s presence. Unfortunately we have not had a chance to see either Livaja or Musa in this tournament so far. I would like to see either of them have a shot as either a supportive role or out and out striker just to see how they play and paired with some of the A team.
From that I think Dalic would have enough information to draw from. I think we all know who our back 4 or 3 should be Gvardiol, Sosa, Erlic, Sutalo have proven to be our best options thus far.
Another positive thing about these games nobody is mentioning is that we have found ourselves a good right winger in Lovro Majer.
Over the years, we have tried some good players out of position on the right wing. For example; Rakitic, Brozovic, Kramaric, Pasalic, Mandzukic, Eduardo, et… All of these have been ABSOLUTELY USELESS on the wings.
Majer lacks pace, but his dribbling, technical abilities, crosses, through balls, and left footed shot make him very effective on the right wing.
So far here is my lineup for Katar:
It’s the last match before a long break for everyone. France will almost certainly start their best players. We must do the same, but weighted by their recent performances/efforts.
Majer…….. Modric…….. Kramaric
……… Kovacic……… Brozovic
Barisic…… Sutalo…… Erlic…. Stanisic
Sneak a win vs France finally would be great. The two games in september v austria and denamark would be meaningless we would have secured not being relegated to B group.
Then use those games to test final spots for katar.
I wonder what Dalic does with the squad especially does he still believe in Lovren Vida he cant be that blind of coach they are just a waste of space on the fiels unless he takes them as lockeroom guys.
Maybe fifa expand the squads to 26 men so lovren vida make it hahaha
Ante, I saw your comments below where you call these UEFA NL matches as just friendlies. With due respect, I disagree with your view. NL matches have more ranking weight than friendly matches. These NL matches are not only important for EURO 2024 qualifying draw (December 2022) but also for WC 2026 qualifying draw.
Remember a few months back, how we needed at least a draw against Slovenia or Bulgaria in friendly matches to be in Pot 2 for the WC draw. So as you can see even friendly matches are important. As we all know, there is a big advantage being in higher ranked POTS for EURO and WC draws and also qualifying rounds for the events.
For WC 2026 qualifying it is important or should I say critical that we are ranked in the top 10 European countries and hence to be in POT 1. Only group winners go directly to the WC, runners up go into play offs. We all know what happened to Italy.
FIFA rankings are calculated on matches going back 4 years so these current NL matches are going to be used in determining FIFA rankings when the qualifying draw is done for WC 2026.
Best part about this Nations League…
Lovren and Vida as starters is finally done.
Neither should ever play a minute again.
We are a fickle lot, reading the other thread some users are talking about `winning the Nations League’ now that we’ve finally had a win, lol. This comes after we were all “well who cares its NL anyway” after the Austria game. I still expect France to smash us 3-0 or so on their own deck and for us to be battling to avoid relegation, despite the win last time out. Love to be proven wrong of course but i just feel France will come good at some point and i think we are gonna be the unfortunate victims of that.
In any case, in more important news, i think at the same time Australia gonna play off against Peru LOL
These are just friendlies at the end of the season. Clearly, no one in Europe cares for them based on results and squad call-ups. If Croatia were to win UNL and lift the trophy, would the streets of Zagreb and Split be full of people cheering with flares?? Absolutely not.
At the end of the day, it’s great to see Erlic, Sutalo, Stanisic make the best of senior international matches. Guys like Ivanusec, Jakic, Budimir could be kicking themselves at these missed opportunities. That’s the way I take these games.
“These are just friendlies at the end of the season.”
“Clearly, no one in Europe cares for them based on results and squad call-ups.”
France, Belgium, etc “dont care” because they could lose all their games and still be in pot 1. But for us, a fringe pot 1 team that does poorly during tournament qualifications, this tournament is very important. Don’t complain when we get moved down to pot 2 and end up with a qualification group of; portugal, croatia, norway, iceland, azerbaijan, etc. Think of the nations league as qualifications to the qualifiers. These games hold more weight than regular friendlies and is our opportunity to solidify pot 1 in the future.
The ranking argument is a bit of a stretch. The next time rankings will come into play is for EURO 2024 qualifying groups this October. Regardless who Croatia gets in group, top 2 go directly to the tournament. We will be ranked in the top 2 pots as Croatia is #11 in Europe currently. I think it’s a moot point. If you can’t finish top 2, you don’t belong at EURO. If you’re thinking rankings for pots for the actual EURO 2024 tournament in two years…..that is so incredibly far away.
All we have to do is handle business at the World Cup if you’re worried about rankings, not lameass Nations League.
Maybe not over 200k people but yes enough will come out to celebrate.
We are starved for a result Croatia has been mediocre for a long time now