The Croatian national football team gathers today in St. Gallen, Switzerland ahead of three October fixtures, a friendly match with Switzerland on Wednesday, and Nations League matches in Zagreb against Sweden (October 11) and France (October 14).
Unfortunately, coach Zlatko Dalić has been left without defender Šime Vrsaljko once again.
“Unfortunately, we have been left without Vrsaljko again. This is new news, he got injured again in training a few days ago, so he will not be with us at this gathering. I’m sorry he’s gone again because he came back, he was with us after a long time. As for the other players, we still don’t know the whole situation. According to the latest information, Badelj will still come, and we are waiting for news about Brekalo. I hope that everyone will be together, except that we have been left without Rebić earlier,” Dalić said.
In analysing the September matches, Dalić points to two completely different approaches than to the matches against Portugal and France.
“We have suffered two heavy defeats, but the approach was bad only against Portugal. We were not really in that game, there was no aggression, running, duels. I can’t say we didn’t want to, but we came across a much stronger opponent at the time, Portugal was better in all segments of the game. Against the French this was not the case, we were much better then. We played a good game that we did not deserve to lose, in the analysis of the game we saw hat we ran three kilometers more than the French. However, deconcentration in some situations, a drop in responsibility and two interruptions contributed to the defeat. We were great until the 43rd minute, dominated, absolutely controlled the game. And then two unseen mistakes happen to us so instead of going 1-0 at half time, we are down 1-2. In such a situation, it was not easy to enter the continuation of the match, but we got back into the game, equalised and then come two interruptions that destroy us. In Zagreb, however, I expect a different game, we are constantly on par with France in the game, and we always lose. I expect that we will be better this time, the players are a month more in training and competitive form and they will surely come to this gathering in a much better edition.”
Croatia will play three matches in the next nine days. What is the plan? Are the Nations League matches more important than the friendly against Switzerland and which players will get game time?
“There is little time, and a lot of games, not all players will be able to withstand that and that is why the list is a bit wider. My goal is to give the opportunity against Switzerland to players who have played less so far and who have not always been in the national team. We want to see them, which means we will play against the Swiss with a team that will be quite mixed. Of course, the Nations League is important to us, we want to stay in the elite group and we must focus all our efforts on the matches against Sweden and France in Zagreb. These are two important matches, we will do our best to win at least one in order to stay in the elite group.”
What answers would you like to get in this context against the Swiss?
“We want to see players who have not been often in the national team and play well in their clubs. They all deserve a call-up and now have the opportunity to impose themselves and show that we can count on them in the near future. My rule is already known, it is difficult to get in and out of the national team, but, given the circumstances in which frequent absences of players occur, we have to find certain solutions. We said that we are preparing the team for the European Championship and this is an opportunity to see some new faces.”
Andrej Kramarić scored again and is still the leading scorer in the Bundesliga. What will be his role in the team?
“My task as a coach is to find the best solutions for all players in the system in which Croatia plays. Kramarić played in several positions in the national team, and in the end, he took us to the World Cup in Russia with two goals when he played in the classic striker role in Ukraine. So, there are no doubts on that issue. We will see the situation, and I will try to make Kramarić play in a position where he is the best for the Croatian national team. In any case, my task is to make the best use of its qualities.”
Ivan Rakitić said goodbye to the national team, and Ante Rebić is missing due to injury. How much does that change things and is Kovačić or Vlašić closer to the starting line-up?
“We will see who will be in the starting lineup, everyone will get a chance, and I really need both Kovačić and Vlašić. They have already proven that they can do it. I am sorry that Rakitić is no longer with us, but younger players are coming who will have to replace him. It will not be easy for them at all, they will need time and experience, but Kramarić, Vlašić and Kovačić can also jump into that position. In general, we have good solutions.”
How did Sweden impress you in the defeats against France and Portugal?
“The Swedes are not a bad team, they are quite aggressive, they have a tough approach. They play in a 4-4-2 system with Berg upfront who is their best player. They narrowly lost both games, in the larger parts of which they were equal opponents, against France they even had more possession of the ball. From that side, we have to be very careful. Kulushevsky? He is a very good player, he plays on the right side, he creates a surplus and we will have to pay a lot of attention to him in the defence phase. However, we are playing in Zagreb, in front of our fans, which, thank God, are returning to the stadiums. Our fans may not be in the numbers we would expect, but any support is very important to us.”
How important is the return of Luka Modrić, on and off the field?
“Very important. Luka is the leader of our game and the leader on the field, very important to me as a coach, staff and players. With Luka, players feel safer on the field and everyone is 15 percent better. I am looking forward to Luka’s arrival, he is healthy and ready. We did the right thing when we released him from obligations in September, we gave him the opportunity to be better both at Real and in the national team. Luka was never questioned, he always gave his best, the only thing that matters is that he is healthy “, concluded Dalić.