Croatia head coach Ante Cacic insists his team cannot use the absence of influential midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic as an excuse when they face Kosovo and Finland in World Cup qualifiers over the next week.
Cacic’s men began their Group I campaign with a 1-1 draw against Turkey – a result replicated across the opening round of fixtures to leave the six-team section deadlocked.
National team captain Modric undergoing knee cartilage surgery and Barcelona’s Rakitic suffering from an Achilles problem have complicated matters for Cacic ahead of the away double-header, while Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren is also out with a groin injury.
“Modric is off, he had surgery and Lovren is off, just without surgery yet,” Cacic told a news conference.
“But the new problem is that Rakitic will also not join us. He has an Achilles tendon injury, that is why he didn’t play yesterday [Rakitic was on the bench for Barca’s 4-3 loss to Celta Vigo].
“Yes, we miss the captain and one of vice captains, but we must not use that as an alibi, we have to win next two matches.”
Cacic has called up Dinamo Zagreb captain Domagoj Antolic to bolster his midfield options but conceded he has concerns over Marcelo Brozovic’s lack of playing time, with the playmaker having only featured for 65 minutes of first-team action under Frank de Boer at Inter Milan.
“I can’t comment why Brozovic is out of Inter squad. Unfortunately, a big number of our players do not play much in their respective clubs, but I can’t change that,” Cacic added.
Croatia are likely to be confronted with a fiery atmosphere in Skhoder when they take on Kosovo in their near-neighbours first ever home World Cup qualifier.
“We know in Skhoder it will be a very hot atmosphere, the stadium is sold out,” Cacic added. “But they respect us, our countries are friendly.”