Many Problems for Zlatko Dalić Ahead of First Euro 2020 Qualifier

Daniela Rogulj

In just nine days, the Croatia national football team will play their first Euro 2020 qualifier in Zagreb. Coach Zlatko Dalić, however, is faced with no easy task – this 2018 World Cup finalist team is plagued with injuries. 

The Croatia national football team begins their qualifications for the 2020 European Championship 2020 against Azerbaijan on March 21 in Zagreb. Three days later, the ‘Vatreni’ will head to Budapest for their second qualifier against Hungary, reports on March 11, 2019. 

Just over a week before the start of the qualifications, coach Zlatko Dalić faces a handful of problems.

The most recent issue is linked to Marcelo Brozović, who left the pitch during the Inter-SPAL match over the weekend thanks to a tightened muscle. On Tuesday morning, Brozović will have an MRI to determine the seriousness of the injury. 

If Brozović is not able to perform in the first two qualifying matches, it won’t be too big of a handicap for Croatia, as La Liga greats Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić are extremely powerful in the middle. Recall, Dalić could also utilize Mateo Kovačić, Milan Badelj, Mario Pašalić, Marko Rog, and Filip Bradarić in his position, so there are alternative solutions. 

But that’s just part of it.

The two powerful wingers on the national team – Ivan Perišić and Ante Rebić – have recently been replaced in club matches due to injuries. Namely, Perišić came out in the 58th minute of the last Europa League match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Inter, and in that same game, Rebić did not play thanks to an injury from the Bundesliga game against Hoffenheim several days earlier.

For now, the situation is such that Rebić and Perišić are undergoing medical treatment, though, at the very least, they are still on the lineup of the players Dalić can count on for Azerbaijan and Hungary.

If it turns out that either of them cannot play, Dalić will be able to activate the Dinamo striker Bruno Petković, who has been in excellent form for the Croatian champions. 

“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but no one is happier than me to play for the national team. It’s one of my dreams,” Petković said recently. 

Unfortunately, Marko Pjaca has been removed from the lineup entirely, as he suffered another serious injury and will not be available even against Wales in June. In what form would he return to the national team even then is undoubtedly in question.

As far as the defense is concerned, the situation is far from ideal.

The first goalkeeper of Croatia national team Lovre Kalinić achieved the transfer of his career from Gent to Aston Villa, where he was initially the standard goalkeeper. However, after he conceded 15 goals in eight games, he moved to the bench where he watched the last three legs of the Birmingham club, including the fierce city derby on Sunday.

Dejan Lovren was suspended due to provocation at the expense of Sergio Ramos in the match against Spain last year and will miss the first qualifier against Azerbaijan, though he should be ready for Hungary.

Before composing the list, the most critical factors for Dalić were the defensive back positions. There is not a single player in the list whose natural position is the right back, although Tin Jedvaj has proven that he can play well when needed. An alternative to Jedvaj does not exist, unless Dalić calls up Karlo Bartolec from Danish club Nordsjaelland. Bartolec is currently on the list of back-ups, as is the already mentioned Petković, Hajduk goalkeeper Josip Posavec, and Red Bull Salzburg stopper Marin Pongračić.

For the left back, Dalić cannot count on Ivan Strinić as he recovers from heart problems, or the more seriously injured Josip Pivarić, who is in the process of rehabilitation. Some good news is that is Borna Barišić finally started receiving playing time for the Rangers, as did Marin Leovac for Dinamo.

While we would consider this anything but a good situation ahead of the qualifiers, Croatia is still the 2018 World Cup finalists, and since their rivals at the start of qualifiers are not the likes of France and Spain, they should still achieve positive results. However, time will tell. 

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