Monday, 24 June 2019

U21 Euros: Croatia Ends Tournament with Draw Against England (3:3)

June 24, 2019 - Croatia and England met for the final group stage game of the U21 Euros on Monday. Because both teams stood at the bottom of Group C, they would not be advancing further in the tournament and only played for pride.

Croatia's U21s ended the Euros in San Marino against England with a Recall, Croatia’s young side lost 4:1 to Romania and 1:0 to France in their first two games of the tournament.

Coach Nenad Gračan made some changes in the lineup compared to the games against Romania and France. Namely, in the initial list, the previous reserves were Grbić, Čabraja, Kalaica, Moro, and Kulenović. Today's starting lineup included Grbić, Uremović, Kalaica, Katić, Čabraja, Vlašić, Šunjić, Moro, Majer, Kulenović, and Brekalo.

The game started with a bit of bad luck on Croatia's side as England was awarded a penalty in the 11th minute to lead 0:1. Both teams had chances in the following minutes, with England having the better of them. 

However, Croatia finally got their chance in the 39th minute. The promising Josip Brekalo sprinted up the left side, cut into the middle of the box to beat the defender and hit a far-post rocket for the equalizer! The game was 1:1 at the half.

England dimmed Croatia's hopes just three minutes into the second half. After a blunder in Croatia's defense, James Maddison put England back in the lead for 1:2.

But Croatia wouldn't allow England's lead to last long. Majer capitalized on a catastrophic defensive mistake by England, found the foot of Kulenović who then touched the ball to Nikola Vlašić for his second goal of the tournament and the equalizer! The game was 2:2 in the 62nd minute. 

Unfortunately, England took the lead for the third time in the game. Kenny scored in the 70th minute for 2:3. But Croatia continued to press, and a perfect through ball to Brekalo saw him nutmeg the keeper for 3:3!

The game ended 3:3, which was Croatia's only draw of the tournament. Croatia has also finished last in Group C. 

By advancing to the semifinal of the Euros, Croatia would have automatically secured a spot at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, which would have been historic for Croatian football.

However, Croatia's young side will have to wait a bit longer. 

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

Friday, 21 June 2019

U21 Euros: Croatia Unlucky Against France in San Marino (1:0)

June 21, 2019 - In the second round of Group C of the U21 European Football Championship held in Italy and San Marino, the young Croatia national team met France. 

Recall, in the first round against Romania, Croatia lost 1:4 and thus significantly reduced their chances of playing in the semi-final of the tournament, which also secures a spot at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. 

Coach Nenad Gračan made three changes to the lineup compared to the first match against Romania. Namely, Brekalo and Benković could not start due to injury, and Halilović moved to the bench. Ivanušec replaced Halilović, while Uremović moved from right-back to stopper, and Borevković took his place on the right. Murić played on the left wing instead of Brekalo who suffered an injury in the first half of the game against Romania. 

France dominated the game from the start and capitalized on their first cross for a Dembele goal in the 8th minute. France almost increased their lead in the 12th minute though Posavec saved the day to keep the game 1:0. 

It seemed like just a matter of time before France scored their second, though it was Croatia to have a golden opportunity. Vlašić hit the perfect through ball to Jakoliš who just missed the far post. The game ended 1:0 for France at the half. 

France attacked at the start of the first half, though Posavec again was forced to defend Dembele - and succeeded. Croatia started stringing passes together and pushing shortly after - and there was an excellent chance by Murić and Jakoliš which France defended. 

Shortly after Brekalo was substituted in for Murić Croatia looked like a new team. They attacked and threatened France’s defense - and were even robbed by the referee when he refused to consult VAR after a clear handball in the box. 

Croatia had another stellar chance in the 68th minute when Brekalo hit a through ball to Kulenović who then hit the post. Croatia was getting close to an equalizer, but luck wasn't on their side.

Croatia had one last chance with a minute to go in regulation time, though Brekalo's free-kick went short. 

The game ended 1:0 for France.

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

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Croatia U-21 Team Prepares for First European Championship in 15 Years

After 15 years, the Croatia U-21 national team will play at the European Championships, which will be held from June 16 to 30 in Italy and San Marino, reports HRT on June 15, 2019. 

The last time the young Croatian side performed was at the 2004 European Championship in Germany, when the team led by Darijo Srna, Niko Kranjčar, and Eduardo da Silva did not advance out of their group. Croatia’s U-21s also participated in Slovakia in 2000 but failed to make it out of their group then, too. The team led by Stipe Pletikosa, Igor Tudor, and Jurica Vranješ finished last in their group.

Furthermore, in their two Euro appearances to date, Croatia’s young team did not win a single game, drew two, and felt defeat four times for a 7-11 ratio. 

This time, however, Croatia is going to the Euro with high ambitions. Ambitions so great they hope to place at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, which has not been achieved by any Croatian football generation. A visa for Japan comes with a spot in the semifinal.

“Just making it to the European Championship is a success, but of course, we will not be satisfied with it, we are motivated to do something more. We have the talent, as well as the responsibility, compactness, homogeneity, and discipline for a good result. This generation breathes together, and we are lead by Croatia in Russia last summer,” said Croatia’s U-21 coach Nenad Gračan.

“We are also talking about possibly going to the Olympic Games, which would be a great achievement for all, and especially for me to go there as a coach. If we hope for it, maybe it will happen. That’s the sport,” the Croatian coach said.

The U-21 Euro will feature 12 teams divided into three groups of four teams. Croatia is in Group C together with France, England, and Romania. Group A boasts Italy, Spain, Poland and Belgium, and Group B Germany, Denmark, Serbia, and Austria.

The three group winners and the best second-placed team will secure a spot in the semifinal. However, in the event England makes the semis, they are not eligible for the Olympic tournament, which will result in a playoff between the second and third most successful second-placed teams from the three groups. 

Croatia will play all three group games in San Marino and will open the tournament on June 18 against Romania. Three days later, they’ll play against France, and in the final round on June 24, they’ll meet England.

“Romania kicked out Portugal and is coming with five A-team players. It will not be easy, but we will try to win. I'm sure none of our rivals are too happy to meet us. The tournament is demanding, with games every third day, and there won’t be many opportunities for rest,” Gračan added.

Germany will try to defend the title after defeating Spain 1:0 in the 2017 final. Italy holds the record five titles, while Spain has won four times. 

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

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