Photo by Slobodan Kadic
November 18, 2023 – Croatia beat Latvia 2-0 in the penultimate Group D match of the EURO 2024 qualifiers on Saturday night in Riga. In September when these two teams first met in Rijeka, Croatia won 5-0.
After a shaky October campaign where Croatia complicated its chances at the Euros with losses to Turkey and Wales, coach Zlatko Dalić is in a slightly better position going into the final two qualifiers. For starters, Croatia has a much stronger attacking team than in October, with Andrej Kramarić and Luka Ivanušec returning to the squad. Striker Ante Budimir also returned to the national team, and Joško Gvardiol has switched to left back for these matches. Unfortunately, Dalić is without the injured Mateo Kovačić and Bruno Petković, while Josip Juranović may recover by the final qualifier against Armenia.
Croatia needed to lock in two wins in these last two games to keep their chances of the Euros alive. Fortunately, Armenia and Wales played 1-1 before Croatia and Latvia met. This outcome suits Croatia, which now depends on itself to qualify for the Euros. In the last round on November 21, Croatia welcomes Armenia at Maksimir Stadium, and Wales hosts Turkey, who has already qualified.
LATVIA : Ozols, Savalnieks, Černomordijs, Balodis, Cigankis, Tobers, Saveljevs, Jaunzems, J.Ikaunieks, Daškevičs, Uldrikis
CROATIA: Livaković , Stanišić, Šutalo, Erlić, Gvardiol, Modrić, Brozović, Majer, Kramarić, Ivanušec, Budimir
Croatia and Latvia took the pitch in a chilled Riga, measuring -1 degrees Celcius and a real feel of -4. Over 1,000 Croatia fans made the journey to Riga to support the Vatreni and warmed them up with chants of “Vukovar, Vukovar!”
It didn’t take long for Croatia to give their fans something to cheer about thanks to an early goal. Captain Luka Modrić played Ivanušec on the right wing who crossed to Majer to score for the Croatia lead in the 7th minute!
Less than 10 minutes later, Croatia did it again. A brilliant back-heel from Modrić on the right wing found Stanišić who crossed into the penalty area. Majer was there and the ball found Krama at the top of the box, who scored with a perfect shot into the lower right corner of the goal for 2-0 in the 16th minute.
Latvia had a few attempts in the attack and two corners, but nothing Croatia could not clear. Croatia ended the first half with 68% of possession and 7 total shots, of which 3 were on target.
The second half started without any changes for either side. A Croatia free kick was the first real chance for Croatia in the second half. Modrić launched the ball into the Latvia wall and it was cleared. In the 61st minute, Dalić made his first substitution, and Mario Pašalić came on for Luka Ivanušec. Croatia was dominant and controlled the pace of the game.
A Šutalo header in the 66th minute, Majer free kick in the 70th and Pašalić shot in the 72nd all came short of a goal. Mario Pašalić was subbed on for Kramarić in the 80th minute to make his Croatia debut. Modrić was subbed off in the 85th minute for yet another Croatia debut – Marin Baturina.
Two last chances for Croatia came in the 89th and 90th minutes from Mario and Marko Pašalić, but the match ended 2-0. Croatia and Armenia meet in Zagreb on Tuesday to close out the EURO 2024 qualifiers.
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