Five Reasons For Irish To Be Cheerful

Paul Little has been looking for chinks in the Croatian armour to give his fellow Irishmen a boost and he thinks he's found five - including a slow defence and a tired Luke Modric...

Last Updated: 08/06/12 at 15:06 Post Comment

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Croatia may be ranked eighth by FIFA, but there is cause to believe that they are simply not the team they were in the last Euros or World Cup and are certainly not as good as the rankings might suggest.

Here are five reasons why the Croats may struggle - giving hope to Irish hearts everywhere...

1) Niko Kovac has not been adequately replaced
The retirement of the influential holding midfield player Niko Kovac has been a problem for coach Slaven Bilic, as Kovac's replacement Tomislav Dujmovic (currently on loan at Real Zaragoza from Dinamo Moscow) is simply not in the same class. A hard-working fellow, he lacks the game intelligence of his predecessor, without whom the Croat midfield is weaker and the Croat defence is more open to attack.

2) Croatia are slow defensively
At the heart of the Croat defence, we are likely to see the creaking veteran Josip Simunic (now 34) and Gordo Schildenfeld (who plied his trade in the German second tier last season) - neither of whom have pace to burn and both of whom are slow on the turn. We are also likely to see Vedran Corluka on the right, and the limited Domagoj Vida on the left. The latter is really a rather agricultural centre-half who has been shipped out wide and who struggles a touch in the technique department. Again, both lack serious pace. If Bilic were to go with these two at full-back rather than the more attack-minded Ivan Striniæ and Danijel Pranjiæ, Messrs Duff and McGeady may feel they can get some change from what would be a slow, narrow Croat defence.

3) Modric looks fatigued
Croatia's most creative force struggled badly at times toward the end of the season with tiredness, and while Bilic has been working to help him recover, there's cause to hope that the little midfield schemer will not be back to his best. Modric will not be helped by the fact that his defence tend to sit rather deep due to their lack of pace, giving him more ground to cover than at Spurs. Not great for tired legs and a tired mind and no bad thing from an Irish perspective.

Moreover, the fact that in recent seasons, he has tended to be deployed in a much deeper role will be a relief to those Irish fans who feared he might cause havoc between our defensive and midfield lines. Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews will be much happier to have him where they can see him.

4) Olic is unavailable
Ivica Olic may not be a prolific international striker, but the Bayern man has been a pivotal member of the Croat team. His willingness to run the channels and press defenders relentlessly will not be replicated by his likely replacement - Everton's Nikica's Jelavic - and is likely to be missed by the Croat midfield for whom he offered options and created space to play.

5) They are suspect at set-pieces
Croatia had to go the play-off route largely because of their 2-0 defeat in Greece to the eventual Group F winners (finishing behind Greece in the qualifiers is hardly a mark of serious quality!). What was most striking about the defeat was the manner of the two goals conceded. Both stemmed from right-wing corners: The first was scored by Georgios Samaras after the Croats failed to clear on three occasions, and the second came from a free header on the edge of the six-yard box by the unmarked Theofanis Gekas. With luck, that sloppiness will be repeated on Sunday.

Paul Little

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