Croatia’s exit from Euro 2016 down to perplexed strategies, confused group preference by manager Ante Cacic

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Croatia imploded opposite Portugal on Saturday night, though their story of anguish began right during a impulse a choice was announced. The worst fears about manager Ante Cacic were entrance true; he had raised fans’ expectations by removing Croatia to flicker opposite Spain and by commanding a tough group.

Against Spain, their side featured 5 changes from a choice he used in a prior games against Turkey and Czech Republic; some forced by injury, some by suspension. Yet, Cacic’s second-choice patrol tender everybody. Winger Marko Pjaca and centre-forward Nikola Kalinic were quite good. Why Cacic chose to leave both for Saturday’s diversion opposite Portugal, we’ll never know. Why the introduction of Kalinic (after 88 minutes) and Pjaca (110 minutes) was hold behind in favour of an hour and a half of listlessness, we’ll never know.

That Portugal were heedful of Croatia — runaway stars of a organisation theatre — was understandable. Why Croatia were muted and uninspired opposite a organisation that competent by a skin of a teeth, we’ll never know. What we do know is: Cacic’s preferences were famous to nobody. There were fears Cacic himself didn’t know his elite XI. When a second-string choice does improved than the first-choice, it indicates a managerial problem.

Coming into this tournament, this talented Croatia patrol had 3 apparent weaknesses: Unruly fans, a miss of defensive solidity, and a manager who did not enthuse confidence.

Croatia's Domagoj Vida is morose after a detriment to Portugal, while Cristiano Ronaldo exults. APCroatia's Domagoj Vida is morose after a detriment to Portugal, while Cristiano Ronaldo exults. AP

Croatia’s Domagoj Vida is morose after a detriment to Portugal, while Cristiano Ronaldo exults. AP

The unruliness of a fans showed adult in a diversion opposite a Czech Republic, and was controlled subsequently. The counterclaim rose underneath a care of a ageing Darijo Srna, who became an desirous and an inspirational figure in a 3 games of a organisation stage. There was a feeling that, if manager Cacic found his groove, Croatia would remove a underachievers’ tag.

On Saturday, opposite Portugal, it was Cacic’s decisions that cost them. Let’s contend it again: It was their manager who let them down.

Preferring Marcelo Brozovic over Pjaca can be put down to the need to be solid. Pjaca is happier in attack, while Brozovic is a some-more versatile midfielder, adaptable and astute. But we saw Pjaca tumble behind in counterclaim with appetite and purpose against Spain, a usually diversion he started. His craving and defensive duties were vicious in keeping Andres Iniesta on a leash. The upshot: Pjaca’s gait and joining to run at defenders creates a opponents wary. That itself if a form of defence.

Cacic has elite to use Pjaca as a substitute; again, not formidable to understand. But because wait compartment 20 mins into combined additional time to put him in? The impulse Pjaca came on, his initial impasse was a monumental run on a right flank, that finished in Portugal’s box. Suddenly, Croatia looked different.

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That also had to do with Kalinic, who was himself much better than Mario Mandzukic as a centre-forward. Whether Mandzukic is harmed or usually out of form is a mystery. What was transparent in a dual games he started was that he didn’t have a demeanour of a champion heading a line of a talented team. When damage ruled him out of a diversion opposite Spain, Croatia acquired purpose and craving in a No 9 slot, interjection to Kalinic. The disproportion between a two was usually too sheer to explain Cacic’s welfare for Mandzukic opposite Portugal, a diversion in which a gifted assailant was wholly ineffective. If he was ostensible to occupy and mislead a defenders in sequence to make room for a aggressive midfielders, he did not cause Portugal any trouble. Croatia were personification with 10 players and a passenger.

For a vast partial of a game, Cacic was holding a square of paper in his hand. Looking at how forbidding a diversion was going, one got a sense that it was a list for a penalty shootout. Both teams seemed to be personification for a shootout. In a final mins of extra time, however, Croatia found another gear. There was a remarkable shift, as most in personnel as in tactics. Croatia seemed unfortunate for a winner. Portugal’s late leader — their only shot on aim — came in response to Croatia’s possess desperation.

Did Cacic sequence a seige? If a players motionless on it themselves, because didn’t a manager warn them? Admittedly, nobody knew that Portugal have one of the best counter-attackers in football. After Renato Sanches’ initiation in a 50th minute, it looked approaching that he would find Ronaldo or Nani with a pass.

After 110 mins of dull, close, tactical football, Cacic’s wards unexpected realised that it wasn’t usually a organisation ranked 27th adult opposite a organisation ranked eighth. It is as if they were strike by a realization that they were a dim horses before a tournament, one of a darlings of a competition, generally after a uncover they put adult opposite Spain. This shift came a small too late. They missed their chances, Portugal took a usually possibility it had.

“What went wrong? Everything was perfect, solely we didn’t score. We were not successful in attack, we approaching Portugal to play on a counter,” Cacic told reporters after a game. “We tranquil a compare for 120 minutes, we didn’t concur any chances solely a last one, when they punished a mistake. That’s football. The improved organisation mostly doesn’t win, and this was a box tonight.”

True, Croatia looked improved on a ball. With a kind of peculiarity they have, that was never in question. The perplexity was: What will they select to do with a ball? On Saturday, Cacic’s team did small with it. There was small craving or adventure. The invisible Mandzukic was upheld by Ivan Rakitic in a center of a attack. He was fouled relentlessly and tactically by Portugal. The referee’s hostility to uncover cards gave a Portuguese players more confidence. When he didn’t have defenders gnawing during his shins, Rakitic was bad in the use he provided, generally his aerial deliveries.

Most of Croatia’s attacks came from a left, in a figure of a untiring Ivan Perisic. All balls were fed to him. Right-back Srna did not run down a wing to attack; he seemed pegged behind by a participation of Ronaldo in his area of a pitch. When Srna did pierce forward, he cut inside, rather than using far-reaching and promulgation his heading crosses. Portuguese left-back Raphael Gurreiro seemed to have Srna’s number.

Luka Modric was closed down for space by Portugal, though when he managed to get away, there seemed a lack of purpose in attack.

Does Cacic cite to proceed games as an underdog, buckling underneath in games in which his organisation are a favourites? Croatia’s exit from Euro 2016 followed a toothless, directionless performance, totally unbecoming of a gifted pool of players underneath his command. After a game, he talked of scheming for a World Cup. He inspires about as most certainty as Croatia’s besieged football association.

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