Thursday, July 25, 2024

Croatia boss Dalic laments ageing squad and defensive issues for Euro 2024 struggles

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 23 Jun 2024

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Croatia are on the brink of an early Euro 2024 exit and Zlatko Dalic apportions their struggles to an ageing squad and defensive issues.

Dalic’s side must overcome Italy on Monday to have any chance of escaping Group B, sitting on just one point after a 2-2 draw with Albania followed a 3-0 humbling by Spain in their opener.

Croatia have not gone through a group stage without winning at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup (D2 L1) as those defensive problems referenced by Dalic remain the main issue.

They have conceded five goals in two matches so far, only letting more in at two major tournament group stages, shipping six at Euro 2004 and as many at the World Cup 10 years later.

“We haven’t started well,” Dalic told reporters on Sunday. “We haven’t been up to our usual standards because we’ve been conceding too many goals.

“We only conceded once in the group stage in Qatar 2022, we’ve conceded five thus far here.

“The players are three years older. We are also coming up against strong opposition here as well. Perhaps the main issue is that we started to concede goals this season.”

Indeed, Croatia have an ageing midfield with Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, as well as calling upon veteran Ivan Perisic.

Yet that experience can still prove pivotal. Modric played 64 passes in the final third against Albania, the second-most by a player on record in a European Championship match (1980 onwards), behind Mesut Ozil for Germany versus Greece at Euro 2012 (74).

Modric also made his 34th appearance across the Euros and World Cup combined in that Albania draw, a total only six outfield European players can better.

That in-game knowledge and quality could prove decisive when they meet Italy, in what Dalic acknowledge is a winner-takes-all clash.

“We know it’s essentially a knockout match tomorrow, and there won’t be any extra time and we must simply win the game,” Dalic said.

“It’s a must-win, any other result will send us home. We don’t want to go home so soon.

“We’ll try to stop them from getting that draw. We’ll try and stay relaxed to not lose our cool or lose our heads and not allow the opposition to get on top of us.

“Anything can happen tomorrow night but we’re ready to take it on again.”

Dalic has previously apologised to the travelling Croatia supporters for their performance against Spain, though his side are creating ample chances to win games.

Croatia have already had more shots (38) and more shots on target (15) at this tournament than they had in their Euro 2020 group stage (30 shots, 10 on target).

They have only had more efforts on target at the group stages of two Euros – 19 in 2004 and 16 in 1996 – with Dalic just needing fortune to fall in Croatia’s favour in Leipzig.

He continued: “Yes, there is pressure. And that comes down to the results we’ve had thus far and also to the thousands of fans that have been travelling and will be there in Leipzig as well.

“So there is pressure for us to put a smile on their faces, to try to get a good result for our country. We need to show our true level. So right from the word go, we need to try to put things right.”

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