Three years on from a World Cup final, Croatia were faced with the chilling reality of a group stage exit with 45 minutes remaining in their second Euro 2020 match against Czech Republic.
A faded version of famous Croatian sides in recent years, to Zlatko Dalic’s credit he has attempted to revitalise this team with young talent.
Josip Brekalo started at Hampden Park, ducking inside when his side had the ball to link with Ante Rebic and Andrej Kramaric, while vacating space down the left flank for Josko Gvardiol, 19, to surge into.
But a sluggish first-half display allowed a brighter Czech Republic to seize the initiative and eventually grab the lead, even if it arrived in controversial circumstances.
After a controversial VAR call deemed Dejan Lovren’s elbow on Patrik Schick to be a foul and therefore a penalty, the Bayer Leverkusen forward added his third goal of the tournament, slamming the ball low into the bottom left corner.
A double-change from Dalic came before the restart, with Brekalo and Rebic making way for Bruno Petkovic and Luka Ivanusec.
And it inspired a livelier Croatia, briefly. Returning with their pride clearly dented, Croatia turned to one of their stalwarts as Ivan Perisic stepped up.
The Inter Milan wide man coasted in from the right and, with his weaker foot, lashed home the equaliser, creating some history in the process.
The 32-year-old became the first Croatian to score in four major tournaments, having also left his mark at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups and Euro 2016.
Perisic has always performed at his best for his country, with glimpses of his game-breaking talent seen sporadically at the highest level with Bayern and Inter.
But despite parity with 35 minutes remaining, Croatia still lacked that control that would usually come through Luka Modric.
The Real Madrid maestro gladly dropped into a pocket of space between his centre-backs, showcasing his signature pass with the outside of his boot towards the left flank.
But as was the case in a forgettable display against England, the 35-year-old lacked his customary bite and explosive bursts into space to provide angles for his teammates to return the ball.
In fact, Modric looked exhausted with less than 10 minutes remaining, hunched over on his knees following intense pressure inside Croatia’s own box.
With Jaroslav Šilhavý’s side able to load the penalty area and Croatia’s inconsistency to meet the loose ball, the game at Hampden Park added more context to England’s 1-0 victory at Wembley last Sunday.
Perisic still has that ability to hurt teams when afforded time and space, given his excellent technique to strike cleanly through the ball.
But Modric’s days dictating games for Croatia appear finished with Mateo Kovacic still not able to emerge as a protagonist for Dalic’s side.
The point ensures Croatia are primed to sneak through into the last 16 with victory against Scotland in their final game.
But the evidence here is that Croatia remain vulnerable and a team playing on instinct, aware that their previous control has escaped them.
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