Croatia were far more fluid in their use of the 352 system, using more ball possession to breakdown the spaces within Denmark’s structure.
The first structural difference saw Stimac start lots of attacks by carrying the ball into midfield and then starting attacks from a far more advanced position. This was met with a positional overload onto the left side of the pitch by Jarni hugging the touchline, Prosinecki providing a target between the lines, boban drawing pressure in front of the ball and Asanovic moving across to become the pivot in the central spaces. Drawing Denmark to one side allowed Bilic the freedom to move forward into midfield and act as an out ball to switch over to and expose the central space behind Brian/Michael Laudrup. Croatia’s use of patterns was very impressive, often pulling Denmark out of position and moving forward without immediate pressure on the ball.
Suker & Vlaovic formed a much more cohesive partnership in this match, with Suker still pulling wide or dropping deep to link the play, but with Vloavic remaining central it gave Croatia a more consistent target when attacking the box. Vlaovic positioning on the high line also gave Croatia the ability to penetrate the space behind the Denmark defense when the space was there to do so.
Croatia Starting X1
Denmark would favor a more direct approach in this match, using lots of diagonal balls from right to left, with Schjonberg often the target. Helveg would also get forward and create attacks from deeper areas of the right wing, often crossing to the back post.
Vilfort, Larsen & Steen Nielsen had a very fluid relationship in terms of movement to get forward & protect space defensively. Quite often we’d see them spread the width of the central area and work within their own vertical zone.
Brian Laudrup was joined by his brother Michael in attack for this match, both of which would work to cover the inside & outside channels when going forward. Brian favored more 1v1 battles on the dribble, where as Michael would look to thread through passes and link up with those around him.
Denmark Starting X1
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS TELL US?
Value of Chances
While Croatia had larger amounts of possession, the first half brought an even contest in terms of chance creation. Even though the Croatians registered more attacks than the Danes, we can see that Denmark’s fewer attacks brought about a decent expected goals score, which certainly gave them a foothold in the match entering the second half. The penalty goal on 53 minutes naturally skews the expected goals, given the probability rating it brings, but we see that after this Croatia had a baron spell that lasted the best part of 30 minutes. During this time Denmark miss a number of quality chances, which inevitably would lead to their downfall in the match.
When looking at the final Croatia xG score we see that they have outscored their chance creation, which typically happens when a goal comes from an unexpected situation. However if we strip things back further we see that they recorded 4 “big chances” during the game (Opta def: A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score”) of which Croatia would only score two (Goals 1 & 2). This would therefore lead us to believe that while the xG was slightly weighted by their penalty award, there were chances that on another day could’ve resulted in a bigger distance between actual & expected goals.
Denmark on the other hand were evidently wasteful in front of goal, and critically underperformed against their chance creation. Within their attacks were 2 “big chances”, both of which came at moments in the match that would have changed the course of play (19 minutes at 0-0, and 78 minutes at 0-1).
Type of Chances Created
Croatia favored a build up play approach in the first half, however when Denmark opened up in search of a goal Croatia were equipped to flip to a more fluid counter attack style. This was predicated on their strength in defensive phases to dispossess their opponent effectively, but also the quality of their strikers to take the initiative and make penetrating runs. We can see that while Croatia have the quality to move the ball progressively, they also have the quality to serve a direct ball into the forwards and create chances from a variety of methods.
Denmark favor the left wing when attempting to create attacking opportunities, and will often play diagonal balls from deep right positions to a high left one. While Denmark have the ability to play direct, they also are equally adept at dribbling into the final third to generate counter attacks and breaking pressure from 2nd balls. They proved to be agile in how they approach attack play, however in future its their ability to convert those chances that require further attention. We see they did a decent job at creating around the box, however more concerted efforts nearer to the goal will be required to advance from this group it would appear.
Where Chances are Created
Croatia registering 6 attacks in the golden zone (1 of which being a penalty) show us their dominance in creating optimum attacking opportunities, but what underlines this further is that 5 of those attacks were on target, and two would result in a goal. This is the definition of taking your chances and shows us that the misfiring performance in the opening match was perhaps a blip.
Similarly Denmark also create 6 attacks in the golden zone, but in stark contrast to their opponents only one of these chances work the goal keeper. The xG on target value shows us that of their chance creation value only 5% comes from shots that were on target, this is a damning statistic if ever you needed one to illustrate how poor the Dane’s were in front of goal.
Who Created Chances
Croatia’s best performer was Davor Suker, who walked away with two goals & arguably one of the finest finishes that we’ll see at this entire competition. He recorded 7 attacks of his own during the game, but would help to create 4 more for his teammates. His personal expected goals were 1.26 (which are weighted by a 0.74 rating for his penalty), however even with that consideration his own score accounted for 47% of Croatia’s overall expected goals.
Henrik Larsen was Denmarks most active in front of goal, however the nod has to go to Brian Laudrup who’s overall contribution (1 attack & 3 created) was the best in what was a disappointing attacking performance for Denmark.
Using our very own Retro Football Analysis Match Simulator, we use the probability rating of each attack to calculate the odds of the matches outcome. Here are the results we got back.
I was interested to see how Denmark’s expected goals value would affect the outcome of this one, but given that their opponents also performed well statistically this predictor score is probably a fair one. Denmark’s coaching staff must be left scratching their heads, their side lost 3-0 but show a 25% chance of winning, it shows how fine the margins in football can be at the elite level.