Observing the Enemy: Croatia

So, while Korea was taking care of business versus Haiti, our next opponents (Croatia) were doing battle with their archrivals Serbia in World Cup qualifying. Croatia ended up drawing that match 1-1 with Serbia, ending Serbian hopes of Brazil, while keeping Croatian hopes alive. Korean fans will be familiar with our opponents given that we played them not long ago, and that most of their players ply their trade in the big leagues (and at the big clubs) in Europe.

First off a disclaimer. The vast majority of this analysis may not provide much insight into the team we will see next Tuesday. Due to the distance between Serbia (where the qualifier was played) and Korea, and due to the fact this is a friendly, Croatia has released almost half their squad back to their club teams. So, the line up and players that feature for Croatia will be very different. Nevertheless, I’ve decided that the tactics that Croatian manager Igor Stimac will likely be similar. So . . .

Croatian Starting XI vs Serbia

Croatia fielded their best XI versus Serbia in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Their XI was: Pletikosa, Srna, Corluka, Simunic, Lovrens, Vukojevic, Modric, Olic, Rakitic, Mandzukic, and Eduardo.

football formations

*Note: of the starting XI, only Lovren, Rakitic, Srna, and Eduardo will make the trip to Korea.

1st Half – Scoreline Croatia 0 Serbia 0

Croatia offensively

In the first half with the score at 0-0, Croatia looked to play their normal game, which is based on short passes with Modric at the center of everything. Modric is loosely given a free role in the center of pitch, with Rakitic dropping deeper on the left to cover for him. Bayern frontman, Mario Mandzukic, moved more to the left into the space Rakitic vacated, giving Croatia a loose 4-3-3 look.

football formations

Croatia Defensively

Initially, Croatia didn’t change much in terms of their shape (from their offensive one), keeping a rough 4-3-3 shape. Most likely Croatia figured that they could cope with Serbia’s attacking pressure without committing all their resources to defense, allowing the attacking three to stay higher and counter. For the most part, Croatia’s strategy worked as Serbia struggled to create many clear cut chances despite controlling the tempo of the match. As the half went on and Serbia continued to put on the pressure, Olic started dropping deeper defensively, giving Croatia a more common 4-4-2 look.

football formations

2nd Half Scoreline Croatia 1 Serbia 0

After Croatia scored the opener following an individual error by Serbia, and a cool finish from Mandzukic, Stimac almost immediately changed the shape of the team to a more defensive shape. Bringing off Ivica Olic, and replacing him with Ivan Perisic. While Perisic has plenty of attacking ability, he is a more natural wide midfielder at this point. Olic is a more natural forward. Croatia proceeded to take a more defensive 4-4-2 formation for the most part in an attempt to see out Serbia’s pressure. The move both succeeded and failed depending on how you want to look at it. It succeeded in that Croatia managed to secure a draw and a point (and knock Serbia out), and failed in that Croatia conceded a goal.


A tale of two halves for Serbia. In the first half they were clearly the dominant side, with the Croatian attack barely getting a sniff of the ball. The key? Pressure. While Croatia was content to allow Serbia time in their own half, Serbia generally pressed Croatia all over the pitch. Modric didn’t have the time to really pick out dangerous passes, and the attackers who dropped deeper, initially Rakitic and later Olic, didn’t have the time to get forward and support Mandzukic and Eduardo. On their own, Mandzukic and Eduardo were generally easily contained by the Serbian centerbacks and deeper midfielders.

football formations

On the attack, Serbia found their best chances from the fullbacks. As mentioned earlier, The wide Croatian attackers were less willing to drop deep and pick up Ivanovic on the right and Kolorov on the left, leaving them freer to get forward. Ivanovic in particular had plenty of time, but being a centerback by trade, he wasn’t able to do too much.

The turning point came at the half, although Serbia looked to be tiring from their constant pressure late in the first half. In the side, really Modric is the only player who is very good with the ball at his feet, and even then he had some trouble getting accurate passes together. With Croatia unable to play their normal game, they struggled to get a plan B going. Modric is a good passer, he doesn’t have the necessary range to deliver accurate long balls over the top, something that could be seen last season at Madrid when Mourinho attempted to use him as a direct replacement for Xabi Alonso. As a result Croatia failed to make much of an offensive impact. Once Serbia started tiring and standing off more, Croatia grew more into the game, and was at least able to get some possession in Serbia’s half.

Possible Lessons for Korea

It’s difficult to draw too much from this match given the massive changes that will occur in the Croatian side. Particularly the absence of Luka Modric. Without him, Croatia will likely look a fairly different side as their isn’t another player who is at his level. And, as such, tactically Croatia will likely look quite different as well. I’m not too familiar with the players that Croatia is bringing (most play in Ukraine, Croatia, or Russia), but I’d guess that they’ll likely line up in a rough 4-4-2, similar to Croatia’s second half look.

However, there are a couple points that Korea can likely take to heart. The main one being pressure. Hong’s teams usually press some, but Korea may want to take a closer look at really exerting pressure in the Croatian half. Croatia won’t likely have many good dribblers who can get out of close situations, so that could be a way to help neutralize any Croatian attacks before they get going. The other point is width. If Croatia does adopt a more 4-4-2 shape this point may not be as useful, but Korea should look to it’s fullbacks to provide some additional threat. Lee Yong is a useful defender, but getting the more forward thinking Kim Chang-Soo on the right could give more benefit if he can combine with Lee Chung-Yong.

The final thing for Korea, is that they will need to be mindful of likely starting forward Eduardo. With 29 goals, Eduardo is Croatia’s highest scorer in the side (even when including the likes of Olic and Mandzukic). I’ve said in the past that Hong-Kim’s biggest weakness is pace and the occasional defensive lapse. Those two things are what Eduardo can expose the most. Croatian captain Darijo Srna will also need to be kept an eye on. Capable of playing as a wide midfielder or fullback, Srna has a quality right foot, and played an inch perfect through ball for Mandzukic’s goal. With Son Heung-Min likely to start on the left wing, the fullback, whether that’s Park Joo-Ho or Yoon Suk-Young will need to mindful not to leave too much space behind.


About Jae Chee 339 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.


    • Well Croatia is bringing 4 players on their A team but the rest will be B players. Maybe if we win the next match, we’ll prove that Korea is a HEADACHE to the major powerhouses so that the next time Croatia versus against Korea, Croatia will bring their full strength team.

      • I think Croatia’s decision to leave half their team at home has more to do with the schedule and timing. Flying halfway around the world (and back) in a span of a few days right after a brutal, physically draining World Cup qualifying match against your arch-enemies (who you fought a civil war with just a couple decades ago)? Their decision makes sense to me. Imagine the opposite. Korea plays Japan in WCQ and then is expected to fly to Europe for a friendly and then back to Korea for league action. I’d be pissed (from a club perspective) if my players had to do that. I’m sure the KFA knew that Croatia would do this when they agreed the schedule.

        • LOL JAE “I’m sure the KFA knew that Croatia would do this when they agreed the schedule”

          You got me!

          IDK if any of taeguk warrior fans know but our KFA is ran by TOTAL DUMBSHITS

          like other countries it will be normal if KFA heads are players like Cha Bum Keun but NO! its ran by cousin of CEO of LG.

          He doesnt know anything about Soccer he wasnt a player, he wasnt a coach, or he never done anything soccer related thats why the whole Korean population is irate about this matter if you havent been following Korean soccer from Korean perspective…..

          • Thats why they put coaches like Huh Jung Moo back in 2010, Choi and now HONG who if anybody remembers HAVE NEVER COACHED A CLUB TEAM.

            First in soccer history. National Team coach who has not been officially coaching a team………………………………

          • I don’t really have a problem with Hong not being a club level coach since he has youth national team experience. The differences between national teams and club teams is so great nowadays that success in one doesn’t guarantee success in the other (see Choi).

          • I’m sure what happened is that the KFA felt this need to improve it’s image after Choi Kang-Hee made himself look like an idiot for (among many other things) trying to insult Iran about their treatment of the team. So, they tried to arrange a friendly against Iran. Iran agreed, then backed out, leaving the KFA scrambling to find some other team to play. So they went through their contacts (read: other FA’s they’ve played against) and got to Croatia, and said “uh, we need someone to play with, will you play with us?” Croatia FA said, “we just beat your butts 4-0, and we’re playing a qualifier in Serbia right before then. But, we can send half a team to play if you want.” KFA, “okay.”

            IMO most FAs are run by idiots. Too much politics. In Korea it’s all about your connections.

          • I’m surprised you didn’t say anything about Cho Kwang Rae. You make it seem as if Huh Jung Moo was a terrible coach in 2010 but I do agree Choi Kang Hee was a horrendous coach for Korea. I don’t understand why Cho Kwang Rae was fired. He produced MANY GOOD RESULTS for Korea but one loss to Lebanon and Japan causes him to get fired. Cho Kwang Rae did much better than Choi Kang Hee IMO.

          • The general feel is that politics played a big role in Cho’s dismissal (hence why the proper procedures weren’t followed). Cho had butted heads with some of the higher ups at the KFA, so when some results went against him (and some of the media and public opinion), they jumped at the chance to sack him.

    • Cho Kwang Rae had been in charge of Korea for 17 months, guiding the team to 11 victories, five draws and three losses. He will always be the best coach in my heart next to Guus Hiddink. <3

Join in the Tavern's conversations -Leave a comment...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.