Luka Modric said on Friday that Croatia “don’t mind being dark horses” at Euro 2024 despite consistently performing above expectations at recent major tournaments. Zlatko Dalic’s men kick off their Euro campaign against Spain in Group B at the Olympiastadion in Berlin today, as they bid to reach the knockout phase for a fifth consecutive major tournament.
Croatia made the final at the 2018 World Cup, losing to France, and then finished third in Qatar two years ago. Despite those successes, Croatia are again not being touted as one of the favourites for the title in Germany, with France, England, the hosts and Portugal widely considered the leading contenders.
“Being the dark horses, we don’t mind about that,” Modric told a pre-match press conference. “Everyone else being the favourites, us being the dark horses, we’re used to that. We have to show our unity... We’re here to make a big result. I think we’ve shown in last the few years we belong at the top of European football. In these championships we’ve missed the last step to make a really good result. I hope we can do that at this tournament and really do something big.”
The 38-year-old Modric, who lifted his sixth Champions League title with Real Madrid earlier this month, is playing in his ninth major international tournament. The midfielder made his tournament debut at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and was an unused substitute in Croatia’s opening game of that event, a 1-0 loss to Brazil at the Olympiastadion.
“I’ve always believed in myself,” he said. “But I’ve always said if someone gave me a piece of paper and said ‘Write down what you want to achieve in your career’, I definitely would’ve been afraid to write all this down. I didn’t expect all this to happen. After all these years, though, here I am. I remember 2006, it was a phenomenal atmosphere in this stadium. I hope this will be the case tomorrow and on the pitch we’ll give a lot to our supporters to be joyful about.”
Croatia have been handed a tricky draw, with a game against reigning champions Italy in Leipzig rounding out their group campaign on June 24, after a match with Albania in Hamburg next Wednesday.
“We have the hardest group, that’s a fact, everyone admits that. So, with Italy, Spain, I think that the start is important,” said coach Dalic. “We would like not to lose, but it’s not our aim. We wish to show ourselves in the best light possible to make a good start. We would like to win, with respect to our opponents who have a great national team. Of course it will be difficult, a very demanding match, but our national team is very powerful.”
Spain wing wizards are gifted players: coach De la Fuente
Meanwhile, Spain coach Luis de la Fuente said young wingers Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams have a “gift from God” ahead of their Euro 2024 opener against Croatia today. Barcelona’s 16-year-old attacker Yamal has leapt into the limelight this season and established himself as a regular for La Roja on the right.
Athletic Bilbao winger Williams, 21, could start on the left flank for Spain and his stock is rising rapidly too after helping the Basque side win the Copa del Rey this season. “They are young players, especially Lamine, he’s a young boy, with incredible talent that only the chosen ones have,” De la Fuente said. “They have a gift from God, very few players have these qualities.”
Despite hailing the pair, De la Fuente said he was trying to keep their feet on the ground, with Yamal revealing last week he would still be doing his school homework at the tournament. “We’re trying to treat the situation normally, but also trying to explain by being humble he will develop so much more,” said the coach.
“If there are bad moments things can fall away fast and there’s huge criticism. That goes at his club as well. We’re enforcing the education and training from his club. They are special footballers, Nico too, that makes them different from the rest.”
However the coach said he could spring a surprise against Croatia and use Ferran Torres or Ayoze Perez instead. “You might take it for granted that Nico and Lamine play tomorrow, you might think it’s a surprise if they don’t, but it wouldn’t be for me,” added the coach.
Gvardiol’s Manchester City team-mate Rodri Hernandez is one of Spain’s leaders and said La Roja must take the tournament step by step instead of dreaming of a fourth Euros victory. Spain last lifted the trophy in 2012.
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