The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

Croatia look to fire up attack, stifle Schick at Euro 2020

Associated Press Friday, 18 June 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Croatia's chances of advancing in the European Championship hinge on two things — firing up a struggling front line and containing Czech Republic forward Patrik Schick.

Under pressure to deliver at Euro 2020 after reaching the World Cup final three years ago, Croatia was stifled against England in the first group match and lost 1-0.

Croatia assistant coach Vedran Ćorluka called on the team to be “more dangerous” and “attack-minded” in the Group D game against Czech Republic at Hampden Park on Friday.

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“We know that our problem lately has been our finishing," Ćorluka said. "We are working to fix that for the next game. I am certain we will be much better and more dangerous.”

But Ćorluka knows Croatia's next opponents very well and how tricky they can be. He played in central defense when Croatia threw away a two-goal lead against the Czechs in a group match at Euro 2016 that finished 2-2.

And he thinks they are even better this time around.

“The Czechs today are a much more dynamic team, much faster, and I think much more unpleasant, so it will be harder for us," he said.

Much of the Czech Republic's threat comes from Schick, who scored twice in a 2-0 win over Scotland on Monday, including a recording-breaking goal from near the halfway line when the striker spotted the goalkeeper far off his line.

But Croatia isn't planning to change its defensive tactics to deal with Schick.

"We will not strictly man-mark him, because we have never done that, and we will not do it on Friday,” Ćorluka said.

Other Czech players that Croatia will have to shut down are midfielders Jakub Jankto, who Ćorluka described as “fast and dynamic,” Vladimír Darida, Tomáš Souček and Alex Král.

“They are very dangerous going forward and we most certainly won’t rush for three points from the very beginning," Ćorluka said. "We want to win, but we will try to do it in a calmer way, without leaving space for Czech counterattacks or dangerous situations.”

For Croatia, playmaker Luka Modrić will need to step up his game after failing to shine against England at Wembley Stadium. He was forced into deeper positions by England's defense, a situation he will have to overcome against the Czechs.

But Czech Republic players don't think the 35-year-old Modrić, who won the 2018 Ballon d’Or, has lost his finesse, or his ability to dictate play in midfield with his passing and vision.

“He’s an excellent player and keeps proving that in every game," Czech Republic backup goalkeeper Tomáš Vaclík said. “He has achieved so much.”

Czech Republic defender Ondřej Čelůstka said Modrić “is the brain of their play, he will get a lot of ball and try to get loose from the players marking him.”

Croatia is still without first-choice left back Borna Barišić, who missed the first group match against England with a back injury. There had been hope that the Rangers player would travel to Glasgow for Friday's game, but Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said Barišić needed more time and that he may be able to play in the final group match.

Barišić’s offensive qualities were missed in the loss to England, since he likes to drive forward. But Dalić promised that even without him, there will be more attacking play from against the Czech Republic.

“We’re going to go with a more offensive game," he said. "We need to move forward and penetrate in the attacking phase.”

That's something that Czech Republic coach Jaroslav Šilhavý is conscience of, saying his defenders will need to produce a better performance than they did on Monday against Scotland.

“Croatia is very creative, they combine a lot on the pitch,” he said. “We will have to be on our toes and be good in defense.”

After beating Scotland in their first match, the Czechs are going into Friday's game leading Group D on goal difference and are looking to advance to the round of 16. A draw at Hampden Park might just be enough to do that.

Croatia doesn't have that luxury.

“We’re not in the same position as the Czech Republic with three points, so we need to win,” Dalić said. “We need this.”

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