Zlatko Dalić-led Croatia are One of the Top Teams to Watch at Euro 2024

Croatia is not regarded as a favourite to win the Euros this year, but they have come close to winning a championship in the Zlatko Dalić era. They made it to the semi-finals of each of the last two World Cups, progressing to the final in 2018 but losing to France. They also made the UEFA Nations League final in 2023 but lost to Spain.

Croatia has been a regular in European Championships, formerly representing Yugoslavia until the Euro 1992 knockout rounds, and featuring in all but one of the last seven tournaments since their official tournament debut as an independent nation. However, Vatreni has only managed to reach the quarterfinals on two occasions, their first campaign in 1996 and again at Euro 2008.

This year, Zlatko Dalić will look to take his team at least past the quarterfinals of the Euros for the first time in their history, hoping to break their trophy duck in Germany. It won’t be an easy feat for Croatia as they find themselves in a Group of Death with Spain, one of the tournament favourites, and defending champions Italy. While topping the group might seem like an uphill task on paper, Vatreni has shown under Dalić that they are not a team to count out. With a squad that combines young talents with championship experience, Croatia has what it takes to make a statement in the summer. With Croatia tickets selling out at a fast rate, here’s what we expect to see from the Balkan country at Euro 2024.

Dalić’s Men Are Solid on Paper

As we await Dalić’s final squad announcement ahead of the June 7 deadline set by UEFA, there won’t be many surprises as to who cuts to represent Croatia in Germany. Dalić has mostly implemented a 4-3-3 formation since his appointment and will likely stick to this arrangement.

Goalkeeper Dominik Livaković is Croatia’s first choice and will start in goal for the Balkan country. The 29-year-old was in top contention for Goalkeeper of the Tournament after an excellent display at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. He has 52 caps for the national team since his senior debut in 2017 and was solid in front of goal for Croatia at the Euro Qualifiers.

Livaković has also performed well at the club level this season, ranking second on the Super Lig clean sheets table, with just 14 goals conceded in the 33 league games he has played for Fenerbahçe. Substitute goalkeepers Nediljko Labrović, Ivica Ivušić, and Dominik Kotarski could potentially join the Croatian No. 1 on the plane to Germany.

Dalić will utilize a defensive lineup consisting of two centre-backs and two wing-backs. Domagoj Vida is expected to join Manchester City defender Joško Gvardiol at the heart of Croatia’s defence, while Bundesliga duo Josip Stanišić and Josip Juranović will be the first options on the flanks. Duje Ćaleta-Car and Ajax’s Borna Sosa have impressed when called upon and are worthy candidates to join the final Euro squad.

As has been the case for years, Croatia will be strongest in midfield, with an expected starting lineup of seasoned veterans led by 5-time (or soon to be 6-time) Champions League winner Luka Modrić. The Croatian national team captain is expected to be their most important player yet again.

He is the only player not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win a Ballon d’Or award since 2007 and has shown flashes of his peak form this season for club and country. Modrić holds the record for most caps in Croatia’s history, representing the national team 174 times. Although he is yet to officially announce his retirement from international duty, this tournament will likely be his last Euros, with the Real Madrid legend turning 39 years old in September. Modrić will hope for a crowning moment to his illustrious career, with a title for Croatia being the only missing piece in his extensive trophy cabinet.

Completing Dalić’s starting midfield are Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić, two players capable of affecting the game. Brozović has been solid for Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr this campaign and will be Croatia’s midfield pivot, while Manchester City’s Kovačić will team up with Modrić to drive Croatia’s attack. Barring any unforeseen scenarios, replacing this trio in midfield will be extremely difficult. Nevertheless, Lovro Majer, Mario Pašalić, Luka Ivanušec, and rising talent Luka Sučić could step up in their absence.

Upfront, Andrej Kramarić is undoubtedly Dalić’s best option at centre forward. The 32-year-old forward enjoyed one of his finest scoring campaigns, with 15 league goals for Hoffenheim, including a hat-trick against Bayern Munich in their final league game of the season. His four goals at the Euro Qualifiers were pivotal to Croatia’s second-placed finish in Group D.

Dalić could also move Kramarić to the right wing, giving room for Ante Budimir. The Osasuna No. 9 has been in top-scoring form this season, finding the back of the net 16 times in La Liga. Although he has struggled to make his mark for Croatia, with just two goals in 19 appearances, the 32-year-old will hope to break the hump in June. Croatia’s offense could also feature the likes of Mario Pašalić and veteran forward Ivan Perišić on the wings.

Croatia’s Path to Winning Euro 2024 is a Tough One

Having players like Modrić, Kovačić, and Gvardiol in your starting lineup is enough to make a deep run in any tournament. However, expectations for Croatia won’t be on the high side this year as they face a tough test early in the tournament.

Vatreni will begin their quest for a championship against Spain on June 15 before facing Albania and Italy in the final rounds of the group stage. Ending the group stage as runner-ups could pit them against winners of Groups A, D, or F, with likely opponents being Germany, France, or Portugal in the Round of 16. If they finish atop Group B, they could potentially face a third-placed team from these groups and could face the hosts in the quarterfinals, Belgium in the semi-finals, and England or France in the final.

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