Soccer-Dalic cites leaky defence, ageing squad for Croatia’s struggles

By Thomson Reuters Jun 23, 2024 | 2:45 PM

By Toby Davis

LEIPZIG, Germany (Reuters) – Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic admitted his side had not been up to their usual high standards at Euro 2024 and they would need to keep their heads in Monday’s must-win Group B decider against Italy.

Dalic’s side have earned their spot among the elite in recent years, after reaching the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar and the final in Russia in 2018.

Yet their thumping 3-0 defeat to Spain in their Euro 2024 opener, as well as a 2-2 draw with Albania, has left them facing the prospect of an early tournament exit.

It has also caused Dalic to reflect on what has gone wrong, with the coach pinpointing their defensive fragility and a squad that is starting to get long in the tooth.

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

Croatia find themselves in a precarious position, propping up the table with a point. While they will go through as runners-up if they beat Italy and Albania do not beat Spain, a draw is unlikely to be good enough.

Italy, however, need only a point to book their spot in the last 16.

“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 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.”

In terms of possession, Croatia have been dominant in their opening two games, with over 60% of the ball.

They have also been creating chances, with the stats showing they top the expected goals metric and are second only to Germany for shots.

Yet they have struggled to convert that dominance to the scoreboard and are now under pressure to get it right against the Italians.

“Yes, there is pressure. And that comes down to the results we’ve had thus far and also to the 1,000s of fans that have been travelling and will be there in Leipzig as well,” Dalic said.

“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.”

(Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Hugh Lawson)