LONDON: Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic refused to criticise his team after a lacklustre performance in a 1-0 defeat by England in their opening Euro 2020 Group D match at Wembley.
Having weathered an early storm when Phil Foden hit the post for England and visiting goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic parried a Kalvin Phillips volley, the Croatians were undone by a 57th-minute goal from Raheem Sterling on Sunday.
Phillips was at the heart of the move with a defence-splitting pass and Dalic said his side had worked on a drill to prevent exactly the kind of defensive lapse that cost them.
“We made a mistake that we’ve trained for a whole week to avoid, ” the 54-year old coach, who led Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final, told reporters.
“I congratulate the English but I have no complaints about how my lads performed. We’ll move on, our goal remains to reach the knockout stage and I am confident that we have it in us.”
Dalic’s unfamiliar formation with Ante Rebic starting as a “false nine” at the expense of battering ram striker Bruno Petkovic backfired as the Croatians lacked cutting edge and failed to create any clear chances.
Andrej Kramaric and Ivan Perisic were starved of service on the flanks, leaving 35-year-old captain Luka Modric with too much work in the centre of midfield.
Dalic defended his decision, however, and said 19-year old leftback Josko Gvardiol, who became the youngest Croatian player to feature in a major international tournament, had earned his spot in the starting line-up.
“We wanted to gain some depth in attack by deploying Rebic up front and it looked good but not enough to earn a point against a strong England team, ” Dalic said.
“We didn’t do enough up front and couldn’t engineer our trademark fast-flowing moves, but I am optimistic that we’ll improve and get it right in the next two games. Gvardiol started because he deserved to with his good form.”
The Croatians play the Czech Republic at Hampden Park on June 18 and Scotland at the same venue four days later. — Reuters