Lessons from Croatia

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 2 Apr 2024

Croatia came from behind to defeat Egypt 4-2 in a friendly on Tuesday last week, handing newly appointed coach Hossam Hassan his first defeat while showing how a match at a high level of football should be played, Alaa Abdel-Ghani reports.


Egypt’s central defender Rami Rabia opened the scoring in the sixth minute after a long VAR check for possible offside, only for Nikola Vlasic, Bruno Petkovic, Andrej Kramaric and Lovro Majer in the 22nd, 57th, 77th, and 87th minute respectively to put Croatia up 4-1 and the game out of Egypt’s reach.
Egypt’s other defender Mohamed Abdel-Moneim salvaged a late consolation goal in injury time.
The win gave Croatia the Egypt International Capital Cup. Egypt finished second, Tunisia third, and New Zealand fourth.
Egypt had beaten New Zealand 1-0 in the first game, an early semi-final, while Croatia defeated Tunisia on penalties in the other semi-final following a 0-0 draw.
Hassan, appointed as Egypt’s coach in February following their embarrassing round of 16 exit from the Africa Cup of Nations, tasted his first defeat after beating New Zealand on 22 March.

Hassan, though, was not deterred. “Croatia were the favourites to win, but we wanted to achieve a surprise,” Hassan told Egyptian TV after the game.
“Despite the loss, we benefited a lot from the game. I was determined to play this friendly tournament as it is the best preparation for the World Cup qualifiers next June,” the former Ahly and Zamalek star added.
Hassan insisted that he was optimistic about his team’s chances after seeing how disappointed his players were after losing the tournament, despite it being a friendly.
Egypt’s 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign resumes on 3 June with a home match against Burkina Faso followed by an away game against Guinea Bissau a week later. Egypt had won their first two qualifying matches.

Egypt’s World Cup group is relatively easy and nowhere in Africa will they find a country as strong as Croatia: No 10 in the world, 2018 World Cup finalists and third place winners in the subsequent World Cup in Qatar.
Led by former Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric dictating play in midfield, Croatia gave a master class in the art of the game. They kept possession for long stretches, which needed supreme fitness because of all the off the ball movement.

Their shooting was inch-perfect. Although their tying goal was owed to an error by goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal who was standing too far off his line, the shot by Vlasic who cut onto his left foot and scored in the roof of the net, hitting the crossbar first, was sublime.
Their go-ahead goal was a header by Petkovic from a Modric corner. Although he had acres of space, Petkovic still had work to do. The corner was a looper which had no power once it landed on Petkovic’s forehead. He needed his neck muscles to power the ball forward to the right of Abou Gabal, and from distance.
Croatia’s nail in the coffin was another thing of beauty as Majer launched a superb strike from the edge of the area.

To Egypt’s credit, they could have extended their 1-0 lead when Mustafa Mohamed’s shot hit the post after breaking clear but that profligacy in front of goal, in front of a team like Croatia, did not help Egypt’s cause.
Croatia also lost good chances in the first half but the feeling was they were never truly in danger of losing or losing control of the game. That Egypt’s two goals were scored by defenders highlighted the inherent weaknesses of their offence.

Croatia’s fourth goal was met by cheers from the Egyptian spectators and Egypt’s second, meaningless goal produced sarcastic rooting by the locals.
Croatia also used the friendly tournament as a warm-up for this summer’s Euro 2024 in Germany but the match did not serve as a serious test.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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