Why are Croatia stumbling after historic World Cup run?
Background photo: Sandor Bordas, CC-BY-SA 3.0
Months after their unprecedented run to silver at the 2018 World Cup, Croatia isn’t inspiring much confidence. Zlatko Dalic has done some excellent work with the Blazers. And he’ll go down in history as one of the most successful Croatian managers ever to tinker the national team. But the blips are becoming too frequent these days.
Croatia no longer resembles a team who can win or reach the final of a major tournament if one is hosted today.
There’s no fear-factor about Croatia anymore. The same team that humiliated Argentina and sent the English packing from the World Cup can now be poked in the face by Azerbaijan – who by the way are ranked 104 places below them.
A look at Croatia games since the World Cup paints the picture. Dalic’s men have played six times since that historic final. Three of those has been defeats, including a 6-0 hammering by Spain. They laboured to beat the Spaniards 3-2 in the reverse fixture but recently fell to Hungary in a Euro qualifier.
Croatia’s Euro 2020 qualification isn’t up in the air yet. That takes nothing away from the fact they haven't started on the front foot.
Croatian chances of emerging from their UEFA Nations League Group is also looking slim. Pitted against England and Spain, it’s hard to fancy their chances.
What changed for the Croats?
How does a team go from almost winning the World Cup to struggling with, and even losing to minnows?
Should the underlying problems beleaguering Croatian football be blamed?
Court cases involving Croatia first team players like Luka Modric, Dejan Lovren and Mario Mandzukic continue to linger.
Reports of money laundering and match-fixing in Croatian football can no longer be dismissed with a wave of the hand.
But these issues didn’t stop the valiant Croatians from going all the way in Russia.
It tells you there’s impeccable football talent to be found in Croatia. It’s common knowledge the reigning Ballon d’Or holder hails from the Southern European country. And Dejan Lovren would claim he’s the best defender in the world; although he’s kept just one clean sheet with Croatia in 10 outings.
The assertion here is that nothing has changed with the Croatia national team setup. Perhaps that’s the problem.
That’s why some hard-hitting questions must be asked and answered.
Should Dalic overhaul his squad?
To get an idea of what a squad overhaul looks like, you’ll need to take a peek at how Joachim Löw dismissed three of Germany’s most influential players from future squads. With the trio of Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels ostracized, Germany is doing just fine.
It would seem a little rash and soon to cut some big names from the Croatia side like Low. The German gaffer had good reason; his team couldn’t qualify from their group at the world cup and looked rusty. The Croats have a slightly different problem.
There aren't many ageing stars in the Croatia team who need to retire. Modric, 33, is the oldest in the team. Given his status as team captain, the Real Madrid man is untouchable. Plus Dalic has called up a number of young players lately; including Stuttgart’s Borna SosaI and Wolfsburg's Josip Brekalo. There’s a fine blend of youth and experience in for Croatia.
There’s no point overhauling the squad just yet.
Is Danijel Subasic needed?
Croatia first choice keeper Subasic announced his retirement from international football soon after the world cup.
The Croats have leaked goals in Subasic’s absence. No disrespect to Lovre Kalinić but he’s found his predecessor’s shoes too big. Still adjusting to being the first choice, maybe.
Subasic was incredible for Croatia. Albeit, if he wants out of the national team, the Croats should find a way to survive without the 34-year-old veteran.
Will Croatia qualify for Euro 2020?
Even a crystal ball will give you a blurry answer. Croatia has started qualification poorly. Like the Nations League.
Things must change for the better and quickly too. Croatia cannot afford to continue dropping points. Or they’ll be left gasping for air in Group E.
If the bad results don’t end soon, Zlatco Dalic would likely become a managerial casualty. His job isn’t under threat yet.
It’s clear as day now, things aren’t so rosy for the team who had so much to celebrate last July.