Heading into this crucial game at Hampden Park, Croatia had never lost their second game at any of their last 10 major tournaments, the World Cup and European Championships. In those 10 games, they’ve won six, drawn four and Czech Republic were gonna be number 11.
The Czechs had the upper hand in the first half but weren’t creating any clear-cut chances until the 33rd minute when Dejan Lovren confused the 18-yard box for an octagon and hit Patrik Schick’s face with a flying elbow that would have made Stipe Miocic proud. A VAR review ensued and center referee, Carlos del Cerro was required to have a look for himself before eventually awarding Czech Republic the spot-kick which was coolly converted by the red-hot Schick.
Zlatko Dalić looked elegant and stylish as always on the sidelines but his Croatian team struggled to mirror his look with their style of play. Few players like Mateo Kovačić, Luka Modrić and Joško Gvardiol showed flashes of individual brilliance in the first half but it was a disjointed team performance.
Two halftime substitutions followed, including the removal of the disappointing Ante Rebić and Croatia equalised seconds later. Ivan Perišić fired a rocket of a shot into the corner of the net after he had made Vladimír Coufal look like he was appearing in “Dancing with the Stars”. Both teams continued to press for that all-important third goal which never came and in the end they had to share the spoils which suited the Czechs more than the Croats.
Man of the Match: Joško Gvardiol
Ivan Perišić will get all the plaudits and rightly so, after all he did score that great goal to earn Croatia a valuable point but it was his teammate, Joško Gvardiol who impressed me the most. The 19-year old was efficient rather than fancy and displayed maturity beyond his years in silencing the dangerous Lukáš Masopust and limiting Vladimír Coufal’s attacking influence from right back. His energy proved to be a great asset to Croatia, one of the perks of being 19 years old.
Gvardiol covered a lot of ground down the left side, he read the game efficiently to time his runs to perfection. He knew when to run as a passing outlet or a decoy for Perišić ahead of him to gain some extra space, he never looked out of place. He was influential on both ends of the pitch, blocking and intercepting the Czech moves and then charging forward to make several high value attacking passes, Gvardiol was incredible.
Josko Gvardiol displayed maturity beyond his years with a superb performance against Czech Republic.
The Dinamo Zagreb prodigy looks like a veteran already while only just playing in his first ever international tournament, for someone so young, he may well have locked down that Croatian left back slot for at least the next decade. who impressed me the most.
The 19-year old was efficient rather than fancy and displayed maturity beyond his years in silencing the dangerous Lukas Masopust and limiting Vladimír Coufal’s attacking influence from right back. His energy proved to be a great asset to Croatia, one of the perks of being 19 years old.
Gvardiol covered a lot of ground down the left side, he read the game efficiently to time his runs to perfection. He knew when to run as a passing outlet or a decoy for Ivan Perišić ahead of him to gain some extra space, he never looked out of place. He was influential on both ends of the pitch, blocking and intercepting the Czech moves and then charging forward to make several high-value attacking passes, Gvardiol was incredible.
The Dinamo Zagreb prodigy looks like a veteran already while only just playing in his first-ever international tournament, for someone so young, he may well have locked down that Croatian left back slot for at least the next decade.
For Zlatko Dalić, this will feel more like a loss than a draw. Croatia were the favourites to win this game and are expected to finish in second place behind England in Group D but that seems less likely on the evidence of their two opening games.
As a result, the 2018 World Cup runners-up must now beat Scotland in the last group game to stand a chance of qualifying either in second as one of the best third-placed teams. Noteworthy to mention how difficult that could be because Scotland also need a win to keep their qualification hopes alive.
Czech Republic on the other would be delighted with this result, although they played for a win, they knew a draw would be enough to put them in the driving seat and top of the group on goal difference. The Czechs play England in game three and are well aware that any result other than a loss would see them qualify for the round of 16 as group D winners, a scenario that would have been considered unlikely pre-tournament by even the staunchest of Czech Republic supporters.
By: Tunde Young / @tunde_young
Croatia’s First Half Attacking Struggles
Croatia’s do-or-die match took place at Hampden Park, Glasgow in front of 5,607 supporters, with the reigning World Cup finalists in need of a strong result after their 0-1 defeat to England. However, in the first half, Zlatko Dalić’s boys had some issues progressing the ball from their defensive zone where the Czech side adopted a 4-4-1-1 shape out of possession, led by Hertha Berlin midfielder Vladimír Darida in the center attacking midfielder position behind the striker Patrick Schick, tried to disturb that Croatian 4- staggering 2 build-up structure.
With Lukas Masopust on the right flank and Jakub Jankto on the left, Jaroslav Šilhavý’s side delivered a disciplined, organized performance against the Croats and limited their chances in the first half. When defending, Jankto advanced to put pressure on Dejan Lovren while also keeping Šime Vrsaljko in his cover-shadow, squeezing the area and forcing Croatia to play to the left flank.
Croatia struggled to play their way through Czech Republic’s disciplined set-up, with Patrik Schick’s penalty giving the Czechs the opening goal before halftime. The likes of Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić found themselves limited in influence in the opening proceedings and unable to break the lines with their passes, and it was no surprise to see Dalić bring on Bruno Petković and Luka Ivanušec for Ante Rebić and Josip Brekalo at halftime.
Luka Modrić was just one of the Croatian players who found it hard against the Czech Republic’s low block, playing most of his passes sideways instead of vertically.
Ivan Perišić: Gamechanger
Nevertheless, Zlatko Dalić made two substitutions with the introduction of Bruno Petković and Luka Ivanušec instead of Ante Rebić and Josip Brekalo respectively, and having Ivan Perišić back to his natural position in the left-wing. The Inter winger’s shift to his natural flank proved to be the missing piece for his country, capitalizing on a quickly taken free kick from Andrej Kramarić and cutting inside, leaving Vladimír Coufal in his dust, and scoring the equalizer.
In doing so, Perišić became the first player in Croatia’s history to score in four major competitions, whilst simultaneously keeping Coufal quiet after an attacking first half and completed two of his three offensive aerial duels. This forced the Czech defense to open up and take more risks in the final third, which in turn created space for the Croatian players, especially Modrić, to receive in advanced positions between the lines.
The 2018 Ballon D’Or winner found success in the second half by dropping in between the lines and playing a more vital part in their passing in the first third with two key passes and an 85% passing accuracy. Dalić will be counting on Modrić to continue his excellent performances as Croatia take on Scotland in Hampden Park on Tuesday and attempt to escape from an increasingly perilous Group D.
By: Moussa Behilil / @BehililMoussa
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Jan Kruger – UEFA