Croatia will be remembered by many as a team to fear. The 2018 World Cup squad oozed quality and they deservedly made it to the final, dumping England out along the way with a heart-breaking injury time winner.
But, since then, some key players have retired and others are arguably past their prime. The Vatreni are no longer spoken of as the perennial “dark horse” of major tournaments and are huge outsiders for this one. Most bookmakers are currently giving them a 33/1 shot or worse.
Yet, Croatia have two group favourable games they are favourites to win, against the Czech Republic and Scotland, and the round of 16 or the quarter-finals are a realistic target.
In partnership with UEFA, we continue our series of EURO 2020 articles by examining Croatia in detail to see if any of their players can compete for a place in your Fantasy teams, if we can pin down who starts where in an unsettled side.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
CROATIA’S EURO 2020 QUALIFICATION RECORD
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
Croatia topped their group in qualifying losing just once in eight matches although with Wales, Slovakia and Hungary their biggest challengers, the bar was not set particularly high.
As Zlatko Dalic’s men moved their attention onto recent the most recent Nations League, cracks began to appear. In the top tier of the Nations League, Croatia really struggled against the heavyweights in 2020, shipping 16 goals in six matches against Portugal, France and Sweden.
This gives them one of the very worst defensive records in the top tier of the Nations League. A seeming inability to overcome tough opponents in recent history explains the lack of optimism for a deep run in the competition.
The most recent results in World Cup qualifying largely reinforce the view they can dominate weaker opponents like Cyprus and Malta. Yet, they also lost to Slovenia, which was a huge disappointment.
CROATIA’S MATCHES IN 2020 AND 2021
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
And they could not overcome Armenia in this week’s warm-up friendly which ended 1-1. Croatia did field a heavily rotated side and they created a lot of chances without giving many away so they were arguably unfortunate not to win although that in and of itself has been an ongoing problem for the Vatreni of late.
Overall, Croatia’s record suggests they could produce good attacking returns and even clean sheets against Scotland and the Czech Republic.
Given their poor recent results against bigger teams, it would seem too optimistic these days to expect them to overcome England as easily as they did last time. Yet it is worth noting that Croatia’s struggles have mainly been in defence.
Croatia have scored in all but one of their last 12 matches, neither France nor Portugal could shut them out either at home or away. So, while we may not want to put money on Croatia beating big sides, backing them for a goal or two is not out of the question. And we might not want to rush to put up defenders against them, either.
- Most Starts: Borna Barisic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic (all 8), Domagoj Vida (7), Marcelo Brozovic, Dominik Livakovic, Dejan Lovren (all 66)
- Most Goals: Ivan Perisic, Nikola Vlasic (both 3), Luka Modric (2)
- Most Assists: Ante Rebic (3), Marcelo Brozovic (2)
- Goals Scored: 17
- Goals Conceded: 11
- Clean Sheets: 2
THE KEY TARGETS
Croatia’s starting centre-forward could be an extremely attractive as a strong value differential but pinning down who it will be is difficult at this stage. Andrej Kramaric (€6.5m) and Bruno Petkovic (€6.0m) shared a half up-front each in the warm-up friendly against Armenia this week.
Neither scored, though Kramaric had by far the better chances. Strangely, these opportunities often came when he was dragged out onto the wing to accommodate Petkovic although I would not expect these two to play together in a competitive game.
The coach’s latest comments indicate Petkovic is the frontrunner but both have a strong claim and it is difficult to pin this down. We do have the final warm-up game against Belgium to give us more clues though.
This is well worth trying to puzzle out though as this could yield a strong value differential for the forward slot. Both of them can be prolific goal scorers and if either one can make that forward spot their own, they look well capable of making a mockery of that low price tag.
Ivan Perisic (€8.5m) is in dangerous form for Croatia with two goals and an assist in his last 102 minutes of international football, all be it against relatively soft opposition. That’s no accident. He is doing all the right things to consistently get good chances and create them in recent games.
In EURO 2020 qualification, joint-top-scorer Perisic was a regular goal threat with strong assist potential too. Yet, he notably struggled in the 2020 Nations League campaign. He went seriously off the boil here and all he could manage is a single assist in all six Nations League matches.
A mixed record then. But his strong output in the last two international games provides some reassurance. He is also one of the few nailed-on Fantasy assets for Croatia.
THE LONG SHOTS
Luka Modric (€8.5m) is the star man but he doesn’t really fit the template of what we typically look for in an explosive Fantasy asset, certainly not in this kind of price range. He usually plays too deep and can suffer from “assisting the assister” syndrome. However, he is on penalties and an assist every two to three games would not be out of the question.
Few will be rushing to back Croatia’s defence given their Nations League record of giving away 16 goals. And they weren’t even unlucky – they gave away far too many good chances. But they mainly shipped goals to tough opponents. Their record against middling opposition of a similar standard to Scotland and arguably the Czechs is much better.
If you wanted to rotate in a cheap Croatian defender for these games, left-back Borna Barisic (€4.5m) would seem the best option. He should start and also has decent assist potential from crosses particularly if the 6ft3in Petkovic is leading the line.
Nikola Vlasic (€6.5m) should start and he has returned two goals and a one assist in his last five appearances for Croatia. That may be a slight over-performance but not by much, a goal and/or an assist in the groups would be a realistic target and for a mid-price option that isn’t bad at all.
Marcelo Brozovic (€6.5m) should be nailed on but the potential for attacking returns is too low for him to be a serious consideration at this price. You could say the same about Mateo Kovacic (€6.0m).
Mario Pasalic (€7.5m) is a quality player capable of goals and assists. His start is questionable but we should see him from the bench. Per minute, he’s got far more goal threat than his one goal in the last six lets on.
He came very close to scoring in midweek versus Armenia and has had great chances in all of his last 3 appearances for his country. That price tag feels about €1.0m too high given the pitch time uncertainty. He rarely plays the full game even if he starts.
Yet if Pasalic looked likely to start versus Scotland or the Czechs he could be a cheaper and more lightly owned alternative to Perisic with similar expected output per minute.
Ante Rebic (€7.0m) typically does better for Croatia than his one assist in the last six would indicate. He creates chances regularly and ended the season well for AC Milan after a very slow start. At that price he’s hard to rave about but the differential option is there.
Josep Brekalo (€7.0m) is a very talented 22-year-old who we are more likely to see from the bench. One goal and two assists from his last five for Croatia which is a fair reflection of his level. Yet at €7.0m for a player unlikely to start it feels quite hard to justify this unless he really nailed down a spot.
Pasalic and Perisic are the two most-expensive Croatia assets on FanTeam, both coming in at €8.0m).
That means you can pick up Modric for €7.5, the same price as Vlasic and Rebic.
With Croatia’s well-documented defensive problems, €5.0m for their starting defenders is perhaps a little too much on FanTeam.