Reassessing Croatia’s Euro 2024 Chances After Loss to Spain

For the past decade, Croatia has become one of the great overachievers in world soccer. Heading into the 2024 Euros, there was no reason to think that was going to change. Granted, Croatia was more of a dark horse than a leading favorite heading into the tournament. But their recent history says that they’re capable of making some noise. Be sure to check out the latest Euro 2024 odds and favorites from several prominent sportsbooks as the tournament unfolds. 

After a disappointing 3-0 loss to Spain in their opening match, is Croatia still a team to watch in the Euros? Should their expectations be altered after such a devastating loss?

Before answering those questions, let’s look back at Croatia’s recent track record in international tournaments. They made a shocking run to the finals of the 2018 World Cup before losing to France. Less than two years ago, the Croatians reached the semifinals of the World Cup, ultimately losing to Argentina and settling for third place. Even more recently, Croatia was the runner-up of the 2022-23 UEFA Nations League, falling to Spain on penalty kicks in the final. 

While Croatia fell a little bit short in all of those competitions, they have been one of the most consistent nations in Europe over the last half-dozen years. The Croatians have proven that they deserve to be mentioned among the best teams in the world. The only caveat is that the core of the team is moving past its prime, leaving some to question whether the Croatians have enough quality to be a serious contender at the 2024 Euros. But by reaching the World Cup semifinals and playing Spain to a draw in the Nations League final, there was more than enough evidence to suggest that Croatia’s golden generation could make one last push to win a trophy at the Euros.

Alas, questions have been raised after a 3-0 loss in their opening match on Saturday. The Croatians were second best in almost every conceivable way against the Spaniards. After the game, coach Zlatko Dalic even offered an apology to the Croatian fans for the poor performance, saying that his team wasn’t “aggressive enough” to compete despite the stands holding far more Croatian supporters than Spanish fans.

However, one game isn’t enough to count out Croatia entirely. They also got off to a sluggish start at the 2022 World Cup, settling for a scoreless draw with Morocco in the opening match. The Croatians responded with an emphatic 4-1 win over Canada in the following. They have a similar opportunity with Albania being the opponent in their next match. The Albanians are considered to be the weakest side in Group B. A win for Croatia would put them in a good position heading into their final Group Stage match against Italy.

With four of the six third-place teams advancing to the Knockout Stage, a win over Albania and a draw with Italy should be enough to see the Croatians advance. During the 2022 World Cup, Croatia specialized in playing teams to a hard-fought, low-scoring draw. Ultimately, they were able to advance on penalty kicks in both the Round of 16 and the Quarterfinals. Despite the defensive lapses that caused them to concede three goals against Spain, the Croatians are more than capable of tightening up in the back and using their veteran midfield players to control matches much better moving forward.

It’s fair to chalk up Croatia’s 3-0 loss as a bad matchup against a Spanish side that has given them trouble in the past. More important than the loss is the fact that captain Luka Modrić remains confident in the team and confident that Croatia can fix its mistakes moving forward. 

“It was one of those days where nothing went right. We weren’t ourselves, especially in the first half,” Modrić said after the match. “We need to rest, analyze what went wrong, and be better. I am sure that will be the case.”

If recent history has taught us anything, Croatia is not a team to count out. They still have experienced world-class players like Modrić, Mateo Kovačić, Marcelo Brozović, Andrej Kramarić, and others who have led Croatia to great things and exceeded expectations in past tournaments. One loss, even an ugly loss to open the Euros, is not the end of the world. It’s still too soon to think that Croatia won’t be capable of bouncing back and making some noise at the 2024 Euros.

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