Refreshed Croatia win with attack-focused play

ZAGREB • Like Germany's Joachim Low, Zlatko Dalic has also opted to rebuild his squad following last year's World Cup and the Croatia coach was delighted with his new-look team on Thursday.

With only four starters from last year's World Cup final, Croatia started the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 2-1 comeback win against Azerbaijan in their Group E match at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb.

Runners-up in Russia, Croatia fell behind early to a 19th-minute Ramil Sheydaev goal. Borna Barisic made it 1-1 just before half-time and substitute Andrej Kramaric hit the winner 11 minutes from time.

"We will have to switch from counter-punchers to the team that will dominate the possession and attack," Dalic said, describing his side's intended new style of play.

"I want the young, potential players to bring us another dimension."

Team captain Luka Modric, Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic, Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic and Besiktas central defender Domagoj Vida were the only players retained from the starting XI against France in the World Cup final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow nine months ago.

FORWARD LOOKING

We will have to switch from counter-punchers to the team that will dominate the possession and attack. I want the young, potential players to bring us another dimension.

ZLATKO DALIC, Croatia coach, on their new strategy.

Two starters from Moscow, forward Mario Mandzukic and goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, have retired from international football.

Liverpool central defender Dejan Lovren was suspended for this match, while Inter right-back Sime Vrsaljko and AC Milan left-back Ivan Strinic were injured.

Dalic opted to leave Eintracht Frankfurt forward Ante Rebic and Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic on the bench, but stayed true to his words ahead of the clash by naming newcomers - Wolfsburg winger Josip Brekalo and Dinamo Zagreb forward Bruno Petkovic - in his attack-oriented starting line-up.

"I am satisfied. The win and three points are the most important," the 52-year-old added.

"It was difficult - more than we expected - but, when you concede such a goal, it is difficult to break their wall. We were patient, persistent and deserved this win."

Besides Azerbaijan, Croatia are in the same group as Hungary, Slovakia and Wales. Dalic's men travel to Budapest to face Hungary tomorrow.

DPA, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2019, with the headline 'Refreshed Croatia win with attack-focused play'. Print Edition | Subscribe