The Croatian national football team played their US debut yesterday in a friendly match against Mexico in Los Angeles, California.
Against all the odds, the Croatian national football team overcame Mexico with a 2:1 win in a friendly match at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, marking a brilliant success for a historic national team moment. This was the first time since Croatia’s independence that the national football team played on a pitch in the United States.
The friendly match against Mexico, which at first sounded like a good idea, was plagued with issues. The meeting, which was scheduled while most of our national team regulars would still be competing in their club competitions, was more in favor of the payout for HNS.
Because of the imperfect timing, Croatian coach Ante Čačić was forced to put together a side of just 16 players – 10 of which would have their national team debut.
After much speculation and pressure from the media to release the roster for the match, the team that Čačić chose to represent Croatia for the first time in the US was led by the young stars of the Croatian First League, including players from Hajduk, Osijek, and Lokomotiva. Only four players – Čop, Santini, Jedvaj, and Kalinić – have represented Croatia before.
While it was understood that Mexico would be bringing a competitive side and a stadium full of supporters, the odds were not so much for a Croatian team that has never played together.
— HNS | CFF (@HNS_CFF) May 27, 2017
Croatia, however, surprised us all.
After the initial pressure by Mexico at the start of the match, the Croatian side quickly regained their footing on the pitch and began to threaten Ochoa’s net after a series of corners.
In the 22nd minute, Inter Zaprešić’s Jakov Filipović was particularly dangerous with an attempt from a header, but it wasn’t until the 36th minute when Hajduk’s Fran Tudor served Duje Čop the perfect assist for a goal which put Croatia in a 1-0 lead. But that wasn’t all, and just two minutes later Tudor had the chance to prove himself again, outrunning the Mexican defense to find the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Mexico’s coach, visibly nervous on the sidelines, decided to introduce his stronger side for the second half – a real test for this young Croatian squad. Fortunately for Croatia, Lovre Kalinić proved stellar in goal, defending attempts from E. Hernandez, Guardado, and Peralta.
Shortly after things got a bit nerve-racking, and in the 77th minute the Croatian squad was reduced to 10 players after Škorić was sent off for a double yellow.
With continued opportunities from the Mexican side and flawless defending by both Kalinić and Jedvaj, Mexico did finally get their chance at a goal after Javier Hernandez’s head found the back of the net in the 87th minute.
As the final whistle blew, Croatia had every reason to celebrate. For a team composed of players that usually play against each other in the Croatian league, they were unbelievably impactful, fought hard for every ball, kept up with the momentum of the game, and played together as if they have been playing together for years. Even playing with a man down for the last 20 minutes of the match couldn’t stop this young side from persevering!
— HNS | CFF (@HNS_CFF) May 28, 2017
What we have learned from this game is that Croatia is full of talented and young players that are willing to give their all for a spot to fight for their national team colors. A truly respectable performance by our boys yesterday – Croatia certainly has a bright future in football.
A much different national team composition will now focus on their European qualifying match for World Cup 2018 against Iceland in Reykjavik on June 11.