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In-form Nikola Vlašić ready to step up as Croatia chase first-ever victory over Portugal

Nikola Vlašić (Photo: Анна Нэсси/Soccer.ru/CC license)

With captain Luka Modrić and vice-captain Ivan Rakitić being rested ahead of a long season which will end with the postponed EURO 2020 next June, an in-form Nikola Vlašić says he is ready to step up in Croatia’s upcoming Nations League matches against Portugal and France. 

Vlašić has been in phenomenal form of late for his club CSKA Moscow. In the new season of the Russian championship, he scored three goals and recorded two assists in four appearances. Last season, the Croatian was named the best foreigner and the fourth-best player in the Russian league.

Coach Zlatko Dalić has a host of talent to choose from to fill the void left by the experienced pairing of Modrić and Rakitić which has served Croatia so well in recent years. 

Chelsea’s player of the season Mateo Kovačić will likely be given the main playmaker role in front of the more defensive Marcelo Brožović, with either Vlašić or Mario Pašalić supporting them in the familiar triangle in the centre of midfield which Dalić likes to play. 

Dalić has made it clear that he will give players an opportunity over the next two games, and Vlašić says he and his good friend Pašalic are ready. 

“We are ready to take on this important role, we play well in our clubs. Mario is 25, I will now turn 23. I no longer feel young, as a professional I have a lot of games in my career. In any case, it is a great honour and opportunity for both of us to show what we can do in the positions that are vacant by the absence of Modrić and Rakitić,” Vlašić says.

The former Hajduk Split and Everton player says he has been working individually with his father Joško since the end of last year and before the start of the new season and the results are very visible.

“Working with my father really contributed to my current form. At the end of last season, I came to Split and I had nothing to do but train. It was like that for more than two months and it really helped me a lot. I progressed at all levels, all this is now coming to the fore.”

Croatia will be looking for their first-ever win against Portugal when they open the Nations League on Saturday night in Porto. The two countries have met 5 times with Portugal winning four of them and one draw. 

Three days later Croatia travels to Paris to take on world champions France.

“For me, the Nations League is an interesting competition, it best shows where you are and what you are, especially if we talk about Croatia, which is always in a strong group. We play strong matches, which are also preparation for the European Championship, but also for qualifications for the upcoming World Cup. So the Nations League is a very good thing,” Vlašić said.

Vlašić got himself on the scoresheet for Croatia in the last two games against Slovakia and Wales, and he says he would not mind continuing the streak.

“I try to score a goal in every game, I will do my best to do that in the upcoming matches as well,” concluded Vlašić.

Likely starting line-up v Portugal

  • CROATIA (4-2-3-1): Livaković – Vrsaljko/Jedvaj, Lovren, Vida, Barišić – Kovačić, Brozović – Rebić, Pašalić/Vlašić, Perišić/Brekalo – Petković 
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