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Croatia found themselves victims of their manager's outdated tactics.
As the BBC’s Mark Lawrenson once mused while commentating during Fabio Capello’s tenure as England manager, you just cannot use the 4-4-2 system at the international level anymore. So it proved, as England endured a miserable World Cup 2010 and were sent home with a harsh lesson from Germany ringing in their ears.
Since then, even the most stubborn of national football teams has tweaked the system a little to catch up with the new tactical era—though Roy Hodgson’s recent disagreement with Gary Lineker shows that there is still work to do.
So, if someone as nonsensical as Mark Lawrenson can see it, why did a progressive team like Croatia use a 4-4-2 system against a roaming front three like Portugal’s?
Granted it was a form of the 4-4-2, with Modric sitting slightly higher up the field than Hrvoje Milic, but the same basic deficiencies were still evident in the way that the opposition regularly tore them to shreds, with some improvement later in the game.
It wasn’t easy to watch; every time Croatia tried to attack, they were limited to passing the ball along the lines, waiting for an opening rather than creating one. Because of this they were unable to fashion many better chances than hopeful crosses, which were usually dealt with easily by the towering Bruno Alves.
Stimac seemed to have his men playing on the possibility of a header chance, instead of using the probability of threading balls through the Portuguese defence.
And in defence, despite the score only being 1-0, it wasn’t much better.
For long periods they were under the cosh, with the lack of midfield solidity in front of them rather unfairly leaving Corluka and Vida to deal with the pace of Portuguese wingers, who were taking every opportunity to cut inside.
It’s been said before, and we’ll say it again: The 4-4-2 might be OK if you’re Stoke or West Ham, but it simply doesn’t wash at the international level.