Modric continues to lead the world runner-up, who does not miss Rakitic for the good level of Vlasic, Perisic and Kovacic
Spain, unable to secure first place in an a priori quite affordable group, will have to deal next Monday in Copenhagen (6:00 pm) with one of the toughest rivals that could touch them in the second round. Croatia, reborn after their liberating triumph yesterday against Scotland (1-3), is the current runner-up in the world and
the doubts that surrounded the Balkan team after a somewhat hesitant start to the Eurocup have disappeared at a stroke. The best Modric returns, who at 35 is living his third youth. And Kovacic, resurrected at Chelsea, has been able to plug the hole left by Rakitic, who resigned from the national team in September. The former Real Madrid player gives rhythm, packaging and vigor to the Croatian engine room.
Veteran Mario Mandzukic also left the national team and the coach, Zlatko Dalic, is having a harder time finding a replacement of guarantees up front. Petkovic, Dinamo Zagreb’s tank, does not finish working.
Nor does Budimir, Osasuna’s attacker appear. But the one who is always there is Perisic, who at 32 against Scotland scored his ninth goal in a final phase of the European Championship, thus equaling the mythical Davor Suker.
Perisic, star of the best Inter in recent years, is extremely dangerous. He hits and the young Nikola Vlasic creates. The imagination of the CSKA Moscow midfielder is key in a team in which players of the level of Rebic, Pasalic, Vrsaljko, Kalinic or Kramaric were substitutes against the Scots.
Brozovic, another reference in current Inter, is the lung of the team and the doubts are behind, where the years do not pass in vain for the central Vida and Lovren. Gvardiol, a 19-year-old center-back who has just joined Leipzig, is his natural replacement, but for the moment he is acting as a left-back.
It seemed that this was not going to be the tournament for the Balkans, entangled after their very poor debut against England (1-0 defeat) in a great controversy outside of football. Players did not kneel at Wembley to support the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement against racism and nothing else was talked about in the country. Better this way, Dalic and his collaborators in the coaching staff must have thought. Sports was relegated to the background, but the truth is that the sensations in the debut were terrible. The English, doing almost nothing, surpassed them.
And things did not improve in the second game of the group stage against the Czech Republic. The Croats were virtually eliminated for ten minutes after a recklessness by Lovren that led to a penalty that Schick did not miss. But the army commanded by Modric, the ‘Cruyff of the Balkans’, is programmed to resist. It is a team used to playing to the limit.
In the World Cup he achieved a runner-up for history after two penalty shoot-outs and one extra time. Therefore, it is not the Croatian footballers whose pulse is shaking.
They ended up drawing against the Czechs and kept a thread of life. A classic in Croatian football. The pass had to be fastened against weak Scotland and Dalic’s did not fail. They all took a step forward, but in that exercise of resilience the usual one stood out. The eternal Luka Modric assumed full responsibility in the decisive moment of the Euro and avoided the elimination of his country with a goal with the outside of the right foot after receiving in the front of the area. An authentic work of art. Then, he took out the exquisite corner that Perisic combed the net to ward off the ghosts. Croatia is alive. Very alive. And it is a serious threat to Spain. Very serious.