Croatia Must Improve To Progress Beyond World Cup Quarter-Final

They’re the most fancied team in the so-called ‘better’ half of the draw, but Croatia will need to perform much better in their World Cup quarter final against Russia if they’re to progress further.

The Croats had their goalkeeper Danijel Subasic to thank last night after the AS Monaco man saved three penalties in the shootout to see off plucky Denmark.

After breezing their way through a tough group and dismantling Argentina 3-0 in the process, many pundits had pencilled Croatia in for a showdown with Spain in the World Cup quarter-final. But a lifeless, rigid performance against the resolute Danes has taken a lot of the gloss off those previous performances.

Croatia Must Improve To Progress

All Talent, No Plan

Earlier on Sunday, we saw Spain pass sideways and aimlessly to a penalty shootout defeat to hosts Russia, who defended resolutely but were never really put under intense pressure. The Croats did not heed this warning and were arguably worse against Denmark, who at least showed some attacking intent.

In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Croatia have two of the world’s best central midfielders and creators. They’re two players you would bank on being able to break down any defence in world football, let alone one like Denmark’s, which last night included players from Huddersfield and Ipswich Town.

But it wasn’t just poor individual displays from those two players that held Croatia back. There was a complete lack of tactical awareness throughout and no fluidity to the movement of single players or units. As Gary Neville on co-commentary remarked several times, it looked like players were making single passes and then looking up to work out where the next one was going. At this level, players should instinctively know how a system dictates them to play and understand where team-mates were.

Nowhere To Go

At times in the second half, Rakitic found himself standing between central defenders Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida. He would then have to make at least a 25-yard pass to get the ball into the midfield. In order to try and link everything together, Modric was dropping deeper from his no.10 position and there ended up being a 30-yard gap between the midfield and Mario Mandzukic, who isn’t the most mobile of forwards at the best of times.

This all resulted in a lot of sideways passes between the defence and the midfielders and no forward progress. The full-backs Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic tried to provide impetus but Denmark were able to comfortably hold a reasonably high line and compact due to Mandzukic’s lack of pace to go in behind. There was nowhere for them to go.

The only time Modric managed to find a pocket of space and received a decent ball was in extra-time when he slid through Ante Rebic for what should have been the decisive moment of the match. Unfortunately, Modric then produced a weak shot from the resulting penalty that Kasper Schmeichel comfortably held.

Improvement Needed For Progress

Denmark deserve credit for their well-thought-out game plan and for showing a lot more attacking instinct than in the group stages. Subasic had to scramble several times to cover shots from range, but the lack of a quality marksman up front stopped them from winning this game.

But having been one of the standout performers from the group stages, Croatia struggled to break down a resolute side. The first five minutes aside, they failed to find any rhythm and didn’t control the game or exert any prolonged pressure on a distinctly average – if not disciplined and hardworking – Denmark team.

Russia are the next opponents for Croatia in the World Cup quarter-final. Playing for a semi-final place, the Croats’ game plan and passing will need to be much clearer and assertive. The winners of the Colombia and England game should be the only real obstacle for this team in reaching a first-ever World Cup final, but they will have to find the free-flowing and incisive form that got them out of the group if they are to progress further.

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