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Flat Croatia look a shadow of their former selves as West Ham’s Tomas Soucek helps Czechs overrun Luka Modric

·2-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Three years after competing in a World Cup Final, Croatia are now battling to avoid an early exit from Euro 2020 at the group stage.

They find themselves in that situation after failing to win their second game on the spin, this time against Czech Republic.

Their opening match of Group D against England ended in 1-0 defeat and, while this time they improved to claim a 1-1 draw, their hopes of reaching the knockout stages remain very much in the balance.

Croatia have every right to feel aggrieved about the manner of the Czechs’ goal, which came just before half-time after VAR intervened and adjudged Dejan Lovren had elbowed Patrik Schick in the head from a corner.

On first viewing it felt harsh, particularly as both players were leaping in the air to head the ball, but referee Carlos del Cerro Grande pointed to the spot after consulting the pitch-side monitor.

Schick, who had a bloody nosy from the encounter, stepped up and slotted the penalty, meaning he is now the top scorer at Euro 2020 with three goals to his name.

Croatia will have been frustrated by the nature of Schick’s penalty, but truth be told they must also look at their own performance after finding themselves in this situation.

This is quite clearly not the same side who made it to the World Cup Final in 2018 and, while there were flashes of brilliance from that familiar class, their overall play lacked quality.

Ivan Perisic scored an excellent goal after the break, cutting in from the right to leather one home, but that was a moment of brilliance in an otherwise quiet game from the winger.

Fellow 2018 hero Luka Modric was subdued too and early on he was simply being outrun by a Czech midfield powered by the legs of West Ham’s Tomas Soucek.

The absence of Mario Mandzukic also felt significant. The striker has retired from international football and without him Croatia lack a focal point. Ante Rebic is trying his best to lead the line, but he is not an out-and-out striker and it was no surprise to see him hooked at half-time.

Ivan Rakitic is another who has retired and is being missed, and you get the feeling this is the end of an era for this Croatia side.

After this draw with the Czech Republic, they are now fighting to keep their Euro 2020 dream alive.

The fact they have one point means there is still hope, particularly as the four best third-placed teams can reach the last 16.

That would likely happen if Croatia defeated Scotland in Glasgow next week.

For Croatia teams of old, that would have been an easy and achievable prospect - but this side is not the same force it once was.

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