Many at home were sceptical, but Croatia defied expectations and produced a fine performance to defeat Turkey 1-0 in their Euro 2016 opener.
They may not have played to their usual strengths and controlled the game through possession — but they were the stronger side, almost from start to finish, and the win was thoroughly deserved. The particularly inspired Luka Modric scored the decisive scorcher from outside the box late in the first half, and although Croatia later missed a handful of other good chances, Turkey were unable to fight back. They barely took a proper shot on Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic’s goal.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Danijel Subasic, 6 — Had little to do, but was impeccable in handling the few chances that came his way. Completely focused and collected, he didn’t let anything slide past him, so he was a source of confidence for the whole team. If we’re splitting hairs here, though, we could say that very few of his long balls hit the target.
DF Darijo Srna, 8 — Kept crossing ball into the box and was a constant threat in attack, while still managing to plug holes in defence; he hasn’t looked this convincing for Croatia in years. Could have secured the win from a free kick, but his well-measured shot hit the crossbar.
DF Vedran Corluka, 8 — Bled his way through three bandages after an opponent’s challenge left him looking like a walking vampire magnet. Wounded, tormented and perhaps slightly disoriented, he was still very confident in defence and played a few nice long passes as well. Hopefully he’s OK and in fine shape for the next match.
DF Domagoj Vida, 7 — Kept it simple and disciplined, avoided doing things he’s not good at, which only added to his reliability within the team.
DF Ivan Strinic, 6 — Slightly shy and insecure at first, but grew in confidence as the game progressed. Reserved offensively, solid in his primary defensive role.
MF Milan Badelj, 7 — OK at everything, excelled at nothing; a decent overall performance was just enough to help Modric shine, which was the whole point of picking him for this game.
MF Luka Modric, 9 — A classy all-round performance. Not only did he score the winner, he was also great defensively, organized play well and generally looked like a true leader on the pitch. That last quality, not seen that often in his appearances for Croatia, was arguably crucial because his inspiration and hard work galvanized the whole team. Man of the match, without a doubt.
MF Marcelo Brozovic, 5 — Much of his usual influence was lost in a position that he’s not that familiar with — his endless stamina is more useful when used centrally. Playing on the right, his crosses were largely ineffective (only one out of six found the target) and he missed some good chances, too. He also allowed Turkey left-back Caner Erkin to be the only real attacking threat for the opponents.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 — Understated and actually quite poor in the first half when he was watched closely; significantly better in the second after being allowed to breathe more freely, as Fatih Terim’s side had to open up a bit and take some risks. Questions about his ideal role in the team are still unanswered.
MF Ivan Perisic, 8 — Very good and active in both directions. He was all over the place in the final third, proving once more he doesn’t need a quick transition game to thrive. Could have crowned that performance with a goal, but his header hit the woodwork.
FW Mario Mandzukic, 7 — As active as ever in his workhorse role, wrestling with defenders and opening up spaces for others. Produced two fine crosses, which was definitely a welcome and unexpected novelty in his play.
FW Andrej Kramaric, NR — Came on in 87th minute for Perisic.
DF Gordon Schildenfeld, NR — Replaced Rakitic in the 90th minute.
FW Marko Pjaca, NR — Came on in stoppage time for Mandzukic.
Aleksandar Holiga is an independent football writer based in Zagreb, Croatia. Follow him on Twitter @AlexHoliga