Saturday, 16 November 2019

Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Croatia Tops Slovakia in Rijeka, Secures Euro Spot!

November 16, 2019 - The Croatia national team and Slovakia met in Croatia's final Euro 2020 qualifier of Group E on Saturday night at Rujevica stadium in Rijeka. 

Croatia played their final qualifying match for placement in the European Championship next year on Saturday night in rainy Rijeka to just over 8200 fans.

Dalic's side was without World Cup stars Ivan Rakitic, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida and Andrej Kramaric, and played with a younger squad that included Dominik Livakovic, Tin Jedvaj, Duje Caleta-Car, Dino Peric, Borna Barisic, Marcelo Brozovic, Luka Modric, Ante Rebic, Nikola Vlasic, Ivan Perisic and Bruno Petkovic. Recall, Croatia defeated Slovakia 4:0 in Trnava back in September. Croatia started the game at the top of Group E. 

Croatia had their first attack of the game already in the second minute - Perisic crossed into the box though Slovakia defended. Bruno Petkovic forced Croatia's first corner in the 4th minute. Modric played it short to Borna Barisic, who failed to get a good shot in. 

A brilliant play by Nikola Vlasic found Petkovic, who played the ball to Modric. Modric's shot was defended by the Slovakia defense, though the play ultimately resulted in a corner. 

Slovakia's first corner came in the 11th minute, though Barisic had no problem clearing it out. Slovakia was beginning to attack, but Croatia's defense remained solid. 

Croatia was beginning to press but was unable to string plays together in the box. Another corner in the 20th minute saw Caleta-Car head the ball into the keeper. 

Nikola Vlasic played Brozovic in the 24th minute, which he hit wide of the goal. A brilliant Modric cross found the head of Vlasic moments later, which the keeper tapped over the goal for a corner, though they were unable to capitalize. 

Slovakia was dangerous in the 29th minute though Livakovic was there to save the day. Croatia seemed to control the game with 15 to go in the first half. However, one minute later, Slovakia had their chance - Bozenik scored for 0:1. 

Croatia picked up their game in the minutes that followed and pressed Slovakia's defense. Perisic almost scored the equalizer, though the Slovakia keeper was quicker to the ball. 

In the 38th minute, Petkovic fired at the keeper who made a brilliant save to keep Slovakia in the lead. The atmosphere at Rujevica was dulling. Slovakia had two more dangerous attacks with a minute to go and Croatia's fragile defense was lucky it wasn't more. One last attack for Croatia was unfruitful. The game ended 0:1 at the half. 

Dalic made no changes to the lineup to begin the second half. 

A Croatia corner in the 53rd hit the post.  Another corner in the next play saw Rebic hit over the goal. Josip Brekalo went in for Rebic in the 53rd. 

Croatia was pressing and the fresh legs helped. They finally had their chance in the 55th minute - Nikola Vlasic scored for 1:1! 

A quick counter for Croatia in the 58th resulted in a corner, which found the head of Bruno Petkovic for 2:1! The Dinamo star almost had his second goal in the 61st but shot at the keeper. Brekalo shot from outside the box moments later but hit over the goal. The atmosphere at Rujevica was far better in the second half. 

Slovakia's Hak received his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute and was forced to play a man down for the rest of the game. 

Perisic played a perfect through ball to Brekalo in the 70th though the keeper pushed him to the goal line for an out. 

Croatia was on fire - and a brilliant cross by Barisic found the foot of Perisic for a volley into the goal. The game was now 3:1! 

Mateo Kovacic came on for Nikola Vlasic in the 74th minute.  

Croatia had another stellar chance in the 77th - Brekalo stole the ball from the Slovakia defender, played Modric to Petkovic, who played Perisic, though he shot just wide of the goal. 

Brekalo had an unlucky shot at the keeper in the 80th. Mislav Orsic was subbed on for Perisic in the 81st.

A few more attacks in the final minutes of the game proved unsuccessful, and the game ended 3:1 for Croatia! 

With this win, Croatia finishes at the top of Group E and secures their spot at the Euros next summer! 

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

HNS Puts End to Speculation: Croatia and Slovakia WILL Play in Rijeka

October 16, 2019 - A press release by HNS on Wednesday regarding the location of Croatia's final Euro 2020 qualifier against Slovakia next month. 

"The Croatian Football Federation has put an end to the speculation on possibly changing Croatia’s home match against Slovakia and confirms that the decisive match for EURO 2020 will be played on November 16 at the HNK Rijeka stadium, as originally decided.

As the HNS Executive Board decided at a session held on July 11 this year, the Croatia-Slovakia match in the European Qualifications for EURO 2020 will be played in Rijeka. Recall that the Croatian national team needs one point in that match in order to secure a spot in the European Championships next year. 

Considering the extreme importance of the match, the HNS management considered the possibility of playing in a larger stadium that could meet the expected great interest of Croatian fans. However, the previously held view is that the qualifications will be played in the four largest Croatian cities and after Zagreb, Osijek and Split, the World Cup finalists will be welcomed in this cycle by Rijeka.

The unique view of HNS is that in Rijeka, the team will have ideal conditions for their preparations for the match and great support at the HNK Rijeka stadium. Information about ticket sales will be published at a later date on the HNS website."

Recall, Croatia last played at Rujevica behind closed doors in a UEFA Nations League match against England on October 12, 2018. They played a friendly in front of fans against Jordan there three days later. 

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

What Does Croatia Need to Qualify for Euro 2020? A Closer Look

October 15, 2019 - After Croatia drew in Cardiff on Sunday, their fate in the European Championships next year won’t be decided until the final qualifier against Slovakia.

The 2018 World Cup finalists knew that they could secure the Euros on Sunday with a win against Wales - but nothing is ever as easy as it seems with this national team. 

Namely, writes that after drawing in Wales, Croatia still sits at the top of Group E with 14 points, while Hungary follows in second with 12 points. The other three national teams in the group have one match less: Slovakia has 10 points, Wales has 8, and in the last place is Azerbaijan, who is already eliminated. The top two teams from each group automatically have a spot in the Euros.

It is easier to calculate Group E if the countries with one game less, i.e., Slovakia and Wales, are hypothetically given three points for wins against Azerbaijan in the qualifiers to be played next month. Thus, the group would stand as follows: Croatia 14, Slovakia 13, Hungary 12, Wales 11.

The group can certainly be shaken up in November when Croatia and Slovakia meet on November 16, which is followed by Wales and Hungary on November 19. However, Croatia maintains the best position as they have a one-point advantage and are playing at home.

Thus, even with a draw against Slovakia, Croatia not only advances to the Euro, but they will certainly sit at the top of the group. Wales would then be four points behind, and Hungary three, though they have a worse ratio.

But, as we said, that is the best-case scenario. 

A defeat in the last round against Slovakia would mean: falling to second place, and the possibility of Hungary throwing Croatia into third place if they defeat Wales away. However, even the worst outcome (falling to third place) could still guarantee a spot at the Euros. Recall, there will be additional qualifications based on Nations League, where Croatia would have to knock out two opponents. We have yet to know who they could be, but chances are the national teams of Switzerland, Iceland, Northern Ireland, and so on.

The simplest solution, of course, would be to win against Slovakia in the final round at home. However, we must keep in mind that no easy task awaits our 'Vatreni', thanks to the absence of Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida, who will have to sit this one out due to yellow cards. We can expect Slovakia to attack, because a victory is their only safe road to the Euros. 

HNS is also looking to change the stadium from Rujevica in Rijeka to Maksimir in Zagreb for the final qualifier to ensure our national team can play in front of as many home fans as possible. We await an answer later today. 

Remember, a win, which guarantees a safe spot at the top of the group, also promises a more favorable Euro 2020 draw.

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Zlatko Dalic: It Would be Nice to Celebrate Qualifying for Euro 2020 at Poljud

September 8, 2019 - Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic talks Trnava, staying humble, and the young talents leading the way through Croatia's Euro 2020 qualifications. 

Many Croatian football fans may still be wondering if that Croatia team we saw crush Slovakia 0:4 in Trnava was made of magic, or if we’re still dreaming. Sure, a team like Croatia should have had no problem winning that game, but when you take into consideration the players missing (Rakitic, Kovacic), that half of the starting lineup was a team of young reserves, and that it was perhaps the best game of football played under coach Zlatko Dalic, the shock seems a bit more warranted. 

Zlatko Dalic revealed his feelings in the aftermath for Jutarnji List.

“Everything's fine now. We played superbly, all 90 minutes, I said it was one of our best games since I have been the coach. I wouldn't single out any players because they were all great. We played decisively, aggressively, dominated, we were what Croatia should be,” Zlatko Dalic said on Saturday morning before heading to Baku. 

In public appearances before Trnava, Dalic announced a solid Croatia, however, during the week, some doubts were raised about how it would all end. Did Dalic believe this would be the result?

“This was intensified in the media, journalists emphasized the problems, but it wasn’t like that among us. I said the atmosphere was great, we were ready, and that I believed we would play the right game. We held a meeting together talking about where we are and what awaits us. Of course, the atmosphere is not like the World Cup, because the World Cup is something completely different, but the atmosphere in the team is great, and what Dejan Lovren said was not interpreted correctly, it was put in the wrong context.”

Recall, ahead of the game against Slovakia, Lovren revealed that the atmosphere in the team was poor, and far from the positivity that carried the team through Russia. 

Dalic said that he'd let these two games pass, then deal with Rakitic. What will the outcome be?

“They're not over yet. We have a game against Azerbaijan, and now we only have to think about that. No, it doesn't make sense to emphasize anything about Rakitic right now. That's what the media does.”

Ivan Perisic said that Croatia never played the way did against Slovakia in the World Cup, never for 90 minutes at that level of intensity.

“It is true that we kept a high pace for all 90 minutes, that we did not stop even when the result was very favorable. We could have scored far more goals. Slovakia is a good quality team, but they are not like Argentina or England, it wasn’t that kind of high profile match, or like some others in Russia, which had their peculiarities. The World Cup is something extraordinary, but Slovakia looked bad because we didn't let them play. We blocked them, they exploited themselves, they couldn't develop their game. The development of the match was based on our merit.”

What was the shock of being left without Tin Jedvaj on match day?

“When we were told that Tin Jedvaj had a more series injury, we didn't want to risk anything. It happened to us three times that one of our backs had to come out early in the game and that disrupted us. We played great in Elche twenty minutes into the game against Spain, then Sime Vrsaljko was injured and we fell dramatically. The same thing happened with Vrsaljako at Wembley, where we were also good at the start, and Borna Barisic leaving Budapest is the third case. These forced substitutions turned out to have a bad effect on the team, and we were defeated every time. I didn't want to gamble with Jedvaj, so it wouldn't happen again.”

Is Dalic satisfied with Bartolec?

“I did not like the option of putting Vida on the right back and Mitrovic as the stopper as it would not affect the team well. Let the stopper play stopper; the right back play right back. If one falls, another specialist comes in the position. Bartolec was trying to make an impression at first, but later he let loose, fit in, played as I asked. He is our gain and we can certainly rely on him in the future.”

Why were the attacking three Perisic - Petkovic - Rebic selected and Brekalo only introduced in the second half?

“I decided to play as we did at the World Cup, with Rebic and Perisic on . the wings, as they can give the most. Rebic was a midfielder at Eintracht, however, he plays there in the center, facing the opponent's goal and has plenty of space. In the national team it is different, he is closer to the net, in a dense space, and does not do so well. This was evident during the match in Budapest when he was imprisoned and could not reap the benefits. That's why I opted for such a variant.”

Petkovic was one of the best players in the match.

“We need a striker who can hold the ball, and he is the only one in that picture. He is a great player, he danced around his opponents, created chances, scored. We prepared with these tactics and Petkovic executed perfectly. In Petkovic, we have the type of striker we didn't have. I've said it could bring us a lot.”

In addition to qualifying for Euro, it will also be a huge benefit to form a new core of the national team for years to come. But maybe already for 2020.

“If we qualify for Euro, then rejuvenating the national team will make sense. But one thing is clear: they need new aces, hungry, ambitious young men. I said that right after Russia. Brekalo, Petkovic, Vlasic and some others are increasingly important to us.”

Could Croatia be very dangerous at Euro 2020?

“I could tell you something, but this is not the time for such stories. First, we need to collect 15 points, and then we will talk about ambitions for the Euro. We need to stay with our feet on the ground. We only have nine points; this is not enough to qualify.” 

How did Dalic conclude that 15 points would be enough? Isn’t Croatia going to need more?

“I looked at the final qualification tables in earlier cycles. In a six-team group, more points are needed, 21 or 22, but when there are five teams in the group, 15 points are always enough to pass. That is why I say that this is the limit we must reach.”

So, according to Dalic’s estimation, if Croatia defeats Azerbaijan and Hungary, they will celebrate qualifying for the Euros on October 10th in Split?

“That would be the best. According to our wishes. It doesn't matter how we get those points, just get them in the account, but we want them as soon as possible.”

It is not always easy for a mentality like Croatia’s to continue in a duel against the last-placed team in the table after a significant victory. Azerbaijan doesn’t have a single point, but we must remember what happened in 2015, when the two teams played 0-0.

“The focus must be completely on Azerbaijan; they are motivated, they have shown in Zagreb that they are good and we have no right to relax. This situation reminds me of the post-Argentina atmosphere, when I said we had to be humble. We need to stay firm on the ground. If we don't get Azerbaijan, we have done nothing.”

And who congratulated Dalic after the big win in Trnava apart from Mario Mandzukic?

“Rakltic also congratulated me; he sent a message. Not only Ivan, but also Corluka, Vrsaljko, and many others. Most of the messages I have not been able to read, my phone is full.”

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Friday, 6 September 2019

Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Croatia Crushes Slovakia in Trnava (0:4)

September 6, 2019 - Croatia and Slovakia met in Trnava on Friday night as part of the Euro 2020 qualifiers. Three thousand Croatia fans made the trip to Slovakia to cheer on the 2018 World Cup finalists. 

The Croatia national football team returned on Friday to kick off the next round of the Euro 2020 qualifications. There are five games scheduled over the next three months, each of which could be decisive for Croatia’s spot in the competition next summer. The first in the series was played on Friday in Slovakia, which is followed by a visit to Baku against Azerbaijan three days later.

Croatia had an opportunity to move to the top of the group with Hungary, though Slovakia had the same plan in mind. Recall, Slovakia opened the qualifiers with a win against Hungary and a loss to Wales, but thanks to a 5:1 victory in Azerbaijan, they had a better goal differential than Croatia going into Friday’s qualifier. 

The World Cup finalists had not proven their true worth during these qualifications, though their win against Wales in Osijek gave coach Zlatko Dalic a bit of ease this summer. On Friday, however, Croatia was left without Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic, and a back injury for Tin Jedvaj put Croatia’s defense into question even more.

Croatia went into Friday’s game without the superstar lineup of the World Cup - and the starting 11 featured only captain Luka Modric, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Perisic, Marcelo Brozovic, and Ante Rebic from the silver-medalist squad. Dalic instead had to rely on Dinamo goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic in goal, Karlo Bartolec and Borna Barisic in the defense, and Nikola Vlasic and Bruno Petkovic in the attack. 

Croatia had their first real chance of the game in the 8th minute when Modric shot over the goal, which was followed by a Brozovic crossbar moments later. Livakovic saved Slovakia’s first chance at goal in the 11th minute. 

Croatia came out playing the attacking game Dalic said they would, and spent most of the first half pressuring Slovakia’s defense. However, Croatia’s biggest chance came in the 28th minute off a Modric corner when Vida missed directly in front of the goal. Croatia had three corners to Slovakia’s zero by then.

Petkovic dribbled through Slovakia’s defense in the 30th minute for a one-on-one chance with the keeper, though the goalie’s leg saved his weak shot. Just four minutes later, Perisic hit the crossbar - and in the 37th minute, Petkovic missed another chance from the penalty area. 

Opportunity after opportunity, Croatia was left without luck, that is, until the 45th minute when the young Nikola Vlasic nailed a goal in the far corner for 0:1 Croatia at the half.

The World Cup finalists kept their momentum in the second half, which shocked all spectators as a goal by Ivan Perisic increased the lead to 0:2 in the 46th minute! 

Slovakia had a chance in the 51st minute, which Livakovic had no problem saving. Petkovic had yet another chance a few minutes later but hit over the goal. An incredible play between Rebic and Perisic saw Brozovic miss. Croatia's attacking game showed no signs of slowing down, and by the 60th minute, they were running circles around Slovakia's defense. 

And then it finally happened for Dinamo star Bruno Petkovic in the 73rd minute, who danced around Slovakia's stopper to score for 0:3! 

Substitute Brekalo's fancy footwork almost increased the lead even more in the last 10 minutes of the game, and Pasalic hit just wide of the goal with five minutes to go. 

It was more than clear that Croatia wasn't done scoring yet, and a diving header by defender Dejan Lovren increased the lead to 0:4 in the 87th minute, which was the final score of the game.

The 'Vatreni' will play Azerbaijan next on Monday at 6 pm in Baku.

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

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